After the New England Patriots shut down the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII, holding one of the best offenses in the NFL that season to just three points, nearly every headline praised the way Bill Belichick shut down the wünderkind, Rams coach and anointed offensive guru, Sean McVay.
Of course, the stories had merit. Belichick rose to prominence as defensive coordinator of the 1980s New York Giants, winning his first Super Bowl ring when McVay was still in diapers.
But it wasn’t just Belichick who frustrated the Rams that night. While it was ultimately the Patriots’ defensive players who made the difference on the field, they got their play calls from Brian Flores, the coordinator-without-the-official-title who had designed the game plan with Belichick.
Flores isn’t one to say so, but he deserved a lot more credit for New England’s win than he received at the time. He deserves more credit than he receives now, too.
After Sunday, when Flores’ Miami Dolphins beat the Rams 28-17 behind a first half that saw Miami defenders force four takeaways, maybe he’ll start to get it.
The Dolphins won their third straight game and are now 4-3 and in second place in the AFC East, and perhaps most impressively their plus-58 point differential is one of the best in the conference.
When you consider that the 2019 Dolphins were dead last in points allowed at 30.9 per game, the swift turnaround — after Sunday they’re allowing just 18.6 PPG — is impressive.
The 2020 Rams aren’t quite the same offense as the 2018 Rams, but they arrived at Hard Rock Stadium with a 5-2 record, scoring just over 25 points per game, converting 44.6% of their third-down chances, and getting into the end zone on nearly two-thirds of their trips to the red zone.
The final statistics from Sunday don’t tell the full story, not with Los Angeles outgaining Miami by more than 300 yards and holding a nearly 13-minute advantage in time of possession.
But in the first half on Sunday, Flores’ dominance of McVay continued.
The Rams got on the board first with a three-play, 15-yard touchdown drive after an Aaron Donald strip-sack of rookie Tua Tagovailoa.
The rest of the first half from there? Punt. Interception. Punt. Fumble. Punt. Interception. Fumble. Field goal.
For the game, the Dolphins had six batted passes.
With just under five minutes left in the second quarter, the Rams were moving, having picked up three first downs. But on second-and-9, linebacker Jerome Baker ran straight through the line on the snap and was in Jared Goff’s face before the quarterback knew it.
Baker hit Goff on the arm, knocking him over, and the ball intended for Gerald Everett floated inside of where the tight end was, where Eric Rowe picked it off.
Rowe said the Dolphins heard all week about the Rams defense, but knew they were strong too.
“We were like, they need to worry about our defense. That was our focus of mind,” Rowe said. “People keep sleeping on our defense, and that’s fine, but we’re going to show up every week.”
Over the last decade or so, the Patriots assistant coach to get the most media attention is offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. But those behind the scenes had long recognized that Flores had the makeup to be a head coach, even as he made the slow, familiar climb through the organization that so many Belichick assistants make, starting in the scouting department before moving to the coaching staff.
It’s early still, but Flores looks like he’ll be the best of the head coaches who rose to prominence under Belichick. McDaniels’ one stint as a head coach, with Denver, ended before two full seasons; Eric Mangini got two bites at the head coaching apple for a total of five seasons; Matt Patricia’s tenure in Detroit currently stands at 12-26.
Unlike so many others, Flores isn’t trying to be a facsimile of Belichick, or at least the Belichick we see in the public eye. He’s a tremendous leader, and his players believe in him. Even after a historically bad start last season, when they were outscored 102-10 in their first two games and fell to 0-7, Miami finished the season winning five of its last nine.
One place Flores is like Belichick: right now he’s winning with defense. At the midpoint of the season, Miami is second in the league in third-down defense (and points allowed (18.6 per game).
After Sunday, Flores, Rowe and Co. likely won’t be overlooked again.
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