Background: Oct 15, 2021; Ware, United Kingdom; Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores during a press conference at Hanbury Marriott Manor and Country Club. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee
As enamored and intrigued as I am at the thought of San Payton or DeMeco Ryans becoming the Cardinals new head coach, there are aspects of Brian Flores’ candidacy that could make him a superb fit in Arizona.
There is no question that Sean Payton would be the most stunning head coaching hire in the modern history of the Cardinals. But, there are three key question marks about his candidacy:
- (1) do the Cardinals have a legitimate chance to win the Payton sweepstakes?
- (2) what kind of financial package would Payton command?
- (3) would it cost the Cardinals this year’s or next year’s 1st round draft pick, plus another high pick?
As for DeMeco Ryans, the questions are:
- (1) will he demand to have Ran Carthon as his GM?
- (2) who would he bring as his offensive coordinator?
- (3) is he ready to make the jump from defensive coordinator (after 2 years as SF’s DC) to head coach?
The main questions for the Cardinals:
- (1) having hired first time head coaches the last several times, would it be wise for the Cardinals to hire a candidate who has previous NFL head coaching experience?
- (2) in light of Kyler Murray’s development, would it be wise to hire an offensive-minded head coach?
- (3) or, would it be wise for the Cardinals to do everything they can to develop a dominating defense so that the QB doesn’t feel the weight of the world on his shoulders?
Certainly, having a HC/DC package of Sean Payton and Vic Fangio would be a superb answer to all three questions. Yet, the Broncos are scheduled to meet with Payton in LA tomorrow.
It’s interesting to note that Vic Fangio was just interviewed by the Panthers for their DC job, which could be an indication that if Sean Payton takes the Broncos’ job, then perhaps the Broncos want Payton to keep rising star DC Ejiro Evero as DC.
It would be very interesting to know who DeMeco Ryans has lined up as his OC.
Same for Brian Flores.
Obviously, any defensive minded head coach who is interviewing with the Cardinals will have to present a persuasive plan for Kyler Murray and the Cardinals’ offense.
Yet, one has to wonder what Kyler Murray thinks about the Cardinals putting their defense in the best possible hands. I actually think he’s be totally supportive of that, assuming he is happy with whomever the candidate has in mind for OC.
The reasons why I can imagine a strong scenario where Kyler would be 100% on board with having a defensive-minded head coach —- it points back to a game in 2020 where Kyler balled his tail off, but the team lost.
It was the first game after the Cardinals’ 2020 bye week. The team was 5-2 and was at home versus the 4-3 Dolphins who had just pulled off a stunning 27-17 victory over the then 5-2 LA Rams. Brian Flores’game plan to shut down Sean McVay’s bread and butter plays to force Jared Goff to try to beat them from the pocket was brilliant. Flores provided a defensive blueprint for other opposing coaches of McVay’s —- and some say that Florres’ blueprint was the beginning of the end for Jared Goff in LA.
At the time, while I was watching the Dolphins defense dominate the Rams’ offense by taking away their vaunted off-tackle runs and running an edge defender at Goff every time he tried to bootleg or play action, I was desperately hoping that Vance Joseph would follow Flores’ blueprint, because, let’s face it, Jared Goff had his best games versus Vance’s defense —- and he even continued to in Detroit in 2021 when Goff led the Lions to a shocking 30-12 win over the then 10-3 Cardinals.
The 2020 game versus the Dolphins was a battle of Kyler Murray versus Tua Tagovailoa in Tua’s second ever start. The Cardinals were heavy favorites.
The game started inauspiciously for the Cardinals when Shaq Lawson scooped up a Kyler Murray fumble and ran it 36 yards for a TD. Kyler came right back and answered with a 4 yard TD pass to TE Maxx Williams to tie the score at 7-7.
From there it was a seesaw affair. Kyler was turning in one of the greatest performances of his career, passing 21/26 for 283 yards and 3 TDs, while rushing for 106 yards and a 12 yard TD that put the Cardinals up 31-24 with 2: 28 remaining in the 3rd quarter.
In the 4th quarter, Brian Flores made an outstanding, game-changing adjustment. He dropped one of his safeties into the box to set a symmetrical wall of defenders to try to slow Kyler down. It was the first time Kyler had ever seen this kind of a wall.
Flores dropped SS to box and set up a wall with his LBs to discourage Kyler from running. Once when Kyler tried to break the wall on a 3rd down conversion, he got popped inches short. Credit Kyler for lowering his shoulder to try to get it. But, Fins tightened the 4th Q screws.— Walter B J Mitchell (@WBJMItch) January 13, 2023
[he created a symmetrical wall]. Ok, no problem, why don't defenses do that more?— don byars (@dustyb01) January 14, 2023
Because bringing an extra player into the box can leave the secondary more vulnerable. But, it enables a defense to assign a defender to the QB on both sides of the l.o.s. for RPO's and read options, especially vs. cat-quick QBs like Kyler, whom you never want to break contain.— Walter B J Mitchell (@WBJMItch) January 14, 2023
Were you watching how Fins shut out Cards' offense in 4th quarter? Flores dropped SS to box and set up a second level wall of LBs to prevent Kyler from running. Cards lost the game due to tough times converting on 3rd downs. Fins' last short 3rd down stuff led to long missed FG.— Walter B J Mitchell (@WBJMItch) January 13, 2023
Cardinals were shut out by Flores’ Fins in 4th quarter.
The key play in Tua’s game-tying drive in the 4th quarter was on a 3rd and 8 back near their own goal line, when versus a Vance Joseph soft cushion zone, DaVante Parker ran a skinny post underneath Patrick Peterson for a 17 yard gain. Ugh.
The game winning 50 yard FG was kicked by Jason Sanders with 3:30 left.
Cards mounted a drive but the Fins kept tackling runner short of the sticks which caused Kliff Kingsbury to try a 49 yarder from Zane Gonzalez to tie the game, but Gonzalez missed it. Fins won 34-31.
Kyler Murray, despite having one of his very best games, was disconsolate after the game. Do you remember the press conference? This is when Kyler’s frustration about playing well and still losing games first came to a head. It was like Kyler was saying to himself, “I can play this well, and we still lose?”
Brian Flores was the first HC to come up with a plan to slow Kyler down. It was ingenious. Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick followed it weeks later. Flores would be so great with Kyler and so great with the defense. His game planning is absolutely outstanding. Ask Sean McVay. https://t.co/ufiLL2nfoC— Walter B J Mitchell (@WBJMItch) January 13, 2023
A couple of weeks later in back-to-back losses to SEA and NE, Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick followed Brian Flores’ strategy and the Cardinals’ offense did not have a strong enough answer for it. The best solution was to run a steady diet of RPO’s and play action passes to exploit the intermediate areas of the field behind the linebacker wall. For one reason or another, the offense struggled making the adjustments. As for slowing down Kyler’s rushing totals, Kyler was held to 15 and 31 yards respectively.
Had the Cardinals managed to win any of these three games versus MIA, SEA or NE, they would have made the playoffs.
Brian Flores’ Stengths:
- Masterful game planning in the Belichick mold of trying to take away the opponents’ greatest strengths while confusing and pressuring opposing QBs.
- 3 years head coaching experience (24-25 overall record, 19-14 over last two years)
- Strong finishes, 4-2 down stretch in 2020, 8-1 down stretch in 2021 and as LB coach in PIT this season, 6-1 in last 7 games.
- Prevented Tom Brady and Patriots from earning a bye week in 2019, beating them 27-24 in Foxboro in the last game of season. It was Brady’s second to last game as a Patriot.
- Swept Patriots in 2021
- While some criticize his handling of Tua, Tua won 7 of his last 8 games with Flores and was 13-8 over his two seasons with the coach.
- The Patriots train their young assistants in aspects of all three phases of the game. Flores was first trained as a pro scout (advanced game planning of opponents), then used as an assistant special teams coordinator, then as safeties coach, linebacker coach, and defensive play caller (Pats don’t typically call their assistants coordinators).
- Will be forever revered in New England for making the “Malcolm GO” call on what was arguably the most famous game-winning interception in Super Bowl history.
- Was an assistant on 4 Super Bowl championship teams: (XXXIX, XLIX, LI, LIII)
- Over his 20 year coaching career in the NFL, Brian Flores’ teams are 19-1 for winning seasons.
I believe that Brian Flores would be a superb mentor to Kyler Murray. He would show Kyler how to beat the most elaborate defensive packages and strategies and would design game plans accordingly, depending on each opponent’s tendencies.
Brian Flores holds all of his players accountable —- which is the first step toward changing a football culture, the second step being the players holding themselves accountable.
To be writing the Cardinals this recommendation for Brian Flores on Martin Luther King Jr. Day feels especially apt. Brian Flores will forever be known for the courage to stand up against racial discrimination in the NFL as it pertains to how minority coaches are hired, treated and fired. Flores was willing to sacrifice his career in order to affect positive change.
The fact that Brian Flores elected to go back to being an assistant coach (for the Pittsburgh Steelers) this season, instead of taking a year off before interviewing for head coaching jobs again, is a testament to the humbleness of his character and his eagerness to build on his coaching experience.
I have a dream...
What are your thoughts about Brian Flores’ candidacy?