New England Patriots

  • For seven of the 10 years they served concurrently under and as Patriots coaches, from the time the youngest among them moved from special teams to defensive assistant, Matt Patricia, Josh Boyer and Brian Flores all worked together on the same side of the ball.

    When Patricia ascended to the role of defensive coordinator in 2012, Flores succeeded him as safeties coach, while Boyer took over cornerbacks. Four years later, Flores moved into the linebackers’ room and, like Boyer, stayed on Bill Belichick’s staff after Patricia left to be Lions head coach in 2018.

    In fact, Flores repeated as Patricia’s successor, becoming the de facto coordinator of a unit that crowned the season with, arguably, the most impressive defensive showing in Super Bowl history.

    For 55 1/2 minutes of Super Bowl LIII, the Pats held the Rams, who averaged 32.9 points per regular-season game, to a measly field goal. But staying within a single score at 10-3, Los Angeles drove to New England’s 27-yard line.

    That’s when Flores dialed up a specially-designed blitz.

    Safeties Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon, spelling an injured Pat Chung, charged from Jared Goff’s right. With McCourty occupying a blocker, Harmon was free to jump in the face of the Rams’ quarterback, forcing Goff to rush and hang an ill-advised throw short of receiver Brandin Cooks.

    The ball landed in the hands of a leaping Stephon Gilmore, squelching L.A.’s last legitimate threat and essentially securing the Pats’ sixth Super Bowl title.

    “Flo talked about when he wanted to call it,” safety Devin McCourty said, per The Palm Beach Post. “There was a time earlier in the game where I think he thought about it, but he didn’t. But the time came up and I don’t think there was any hesitation. And when he called it, we all kind of looked at each other like, ‘Here it is.’”

    To near-perfection, the Pats executed a game plan influenced by the way Patricia’s Lions defended L.A. in Week 13. The following morning, Flores formally joined Patricia as an NFL head coach; his hiring officially announced by the Dolphins.

    Boyer accompanied Flores to South Florida and, a year later, became his defensive coordinator. Then last January, after Flores was shockingly fired, leading to an ongoing class-action lawsuit against the league and its teams, Boyer was retained by Mike McDaniel.

    Last Sunday, of course, Boyer called plays for the Dolphins’ defense, while Patricia did the same for the Patriots’ offense. Resulting sums were seven points, 271 net yards and three turnovers. Two of Miami’s takeaways, an end-zone interception and strip-sack fumble recovered for a score, led to an early 10-0 difference in a 20-7 win.

    It was a continuation of how a defense constructed and developed by Flores and Boyer finished last season, holding its final nine opponents to 15.6 points a game.

    Nine of 11 starters from Week 18 in 2021 started Week 1 of 2022. A 10th, Andrew Van Ginkel also played, backing up newcomer Melvin Ingram, who scored off a fumble caused by a blitzing Brandon Jones’s blindside hit on Mac Jones.

  • Jun 9, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers senior defensive assistant/linebackers coach Brian Flores at minicamp at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    Jun 9, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers senior defensive assistant/linebackers coach Brian Flores at minicamp at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    This Sunday, after matching wits with Boyer in the opener and presuming the play-calling process goes unchanged, Patricia will try to orchestrate the Pats’ offense opposite another former defensive colleague.

    In March, Mike Tomlin hired Flores as senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach on coordinator Teryl Austin’s staff. The impact was immediate. 

    Linebacker Myles Jack chose to sign a two-year contract in free agency, citing Flores during his introductory press conference as a factor in his decision.

    “He’s a great coach,” Jack said on March 17. “I saw what he did last year in Miami, how he turned that whole thing around. I think it was amazing what he did. After I told Coach Tomlin we were definitely going to make this thing happen, I actually got a chance to talk with Coach Flores, and we both kind of came to the agreement that we both have something to prove.

    “Him feeling his way in his situation and myself…getting released, I feel like I got a second chance at life. I’m just super excited. I feel like we kind of vibed about that connection. I’m very excited to work with him and just see what I can learn and see how we can collaborate to make this thing go.”

    After experiencing some of what he anticipated with Flores as his position coach, Mack expounded on their relationship during a late-May episode of the Steelers Blitz podcast.

    “No question about it, for me to have the opportunity to have him as a position coach, I feel like I’m stealing,” Jack told host Chris Carter. “And for me that was the main thing coming here, make plays, try to get my career back on track and trying to get everything right. I feel like it’s been a great mixture. He’s been teaching me so much, and just how detailed-oriented he is, that’s something I really needed and it’s been great. I’m blessed to have him.”

    By late summer, Jack was even more sure of his springtime impressions.

    “Yeh, definitely, he’s brought a different perspective on ball,” Jack said after an Aug. 1 practice. “I’ve learned a lot by listening to him speak. I pretty much write down everything he says, even if it doesn’t necessarily pertain to what we’re learning. He just has a perspective on things and being a (former) head coach. 

    “It’s really made me look at football in completely different light. He’s shown us what the offense is trying to do and, being a head coach, he’s going to show you literally a 360 view of what they’re trying to do and we’re trying to do and how we can beat what they’re trying to do, like playing battlefield almost. It’s really cool.”

    Teammates concurred, according to The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly.

    “He is a teacher and student,” safety Cam Sutton said during OTA’s. “He has been a great influence on us in a short period.”

    “Just the way he coaches, you can tell that he is a super-intelligent guy,” cornerback Levi Wallace added. “Just the schemes and how he breaks it down. He takes the time, sits down, and talks it out with the guy.” 

    Kaboly noted that Flores’s role during OTA’s expanded to work with the defensive line. His perspective proved freshly unique to 33-year-old, eight-time captain Cam Heyward.

    “He gives us an extra set of eyes that looks at things differently,” Heyward said. “When you are a head coach and a defensive coordinator before, you see a lot. He knows how to talk about global things and break them down to a specific position. Just the other day, he was telling the younger guys that they need to learn the offensive line positions. If you haven’t been around the game long, you are thinking you are only going to need to learn your side.”

    Those were words Kaboly heard and reported four months ago.

    These are observations he shared on Tom Curran’s Patriots Talk Podcast after the Steelers sacked Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow seven times and force five turnovers in their 23-20, overtime win on Sunday:

    “He’s considered a linebacker coach,” Kaboly said to Curran. “But what he really is is Mike Tomlin’s right-hand man. I mean he’s the guy that’s obviously been there, done that (and) should be still doing that at a higher level than he is, as a special assistant to the defense or whatever his title is right now.

    “So you’ve got three very smart defensive guys in Tomlin, the D’ coordinator, new this year, Teryl Austin and Brian Flores getting together every Tuesday…putting together a game plan. And you saw a lot of different wrinkles (with) what they did against the Bengals.”

    Right from the very start.

    On the first play from scrimmage, Heyward sacked Burrow. On the second, Minkah Fitzpatrick intercepted him, returning the theft 31 yards for a score. On three of the next four possessions, Burrow lost a fumble and was picked off twice more.

  • Heyward Sack

    Cam Heyward sacked Joe Burrow on the Bengals’ first play from scrimmage. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

    “I think they played extremely fast. I think they play aggressive,” Patricia said in a Zoom conference Tuesday. “They were able to generate a really good pass rush upfront. I thought their coverage guys, they just read the quarterback really well.”

    While Pittsburgh led the league with 50-plus sacks for a record five straight seasons from 2017-21, continuing a decades-long tradition of pressuring offenses, dating to the ‘Steel Curtain’ of the seventies, Patricia already sees signs of Flores’s influence.

    “There’s some scheme things, certainly, where they brought some edge pressure from some secondary players and different linebacker pressures that they can bring from some of their defensive units that they have that are certainly things that we’ve seen before or some package that maybe we recognized from previous games,” Patricia said.

    “I think B-Flo is doing a great job of blending into that defensive unit. Obviously, Teryl Austin does a great job of coordinating that, but I think there’s definitely some influence there, too, which I think is part of every single year as coaches grow and schemes grow.”

    “It was a huge hire and it’s already paying dividends,” Kaboly told Curran. “The defense was unbelievable the other day and you would have to believe that a lot of that was scheming and game-planning, that probably, partly came from Brian Flores.”

    Another Brian, who knows the Steelers from inside-out, isn’t surprised. 

    When Brian Hoyer made the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2009, Flores was in his second year as a coaching assistant. Three years later, Hoyer spent three weeks on Pittsburgh’s roster. Then in 2014, as a member of the Browns, he split a pair of starts against the Steelers — answering a road loss with a home win.

    After returning to New England, Hoyer was the scout team quarterback operating the Rams offense in February 2019, mimicking Goff and standing in the face of Flores’s pressures in preparation for Super Bowl LIII.

    “I think Flo’s philosophy fits in there,” Hoyer said of the Steelers on Wednesday. “They’re smart, well coached, tough. That’s right up Flo’s alley.”

    Bob Socci is in his 10th season calling play-by-play for the Patriots Radio Network on 98.5 The Sports Hub. Follow him on Twitter @BobSocci.