Steelers, Flores future together would be mutually beneficial
There has been a flurry of coaching changes around the league following the end of the 2022 NFL regular season, an expected response for teams that are looking to put the staff in place that they feel give those organizations the best opportunity for success moving forward. Although the Pittsburgh Steelers have allowed assistant defensive coach Brian Flores, who they added to their staff ahead of the 2022 season, to meet with other teams and make a potential move, both the Steelers and Flores would mutually benefit if they were to commit to a future together.
Flores, who had contended that there were discrepancies in hiring practices across the NFL in relation to coaching candidates of color, was denied by the league from pulling the case, that also involved Ray Horton and Steve Wilks as plaintiffs, from arbitration last September. While there remains questions surrounding the case, the Miami Dolphins and owner Steven Ross were sanctioned by the league for tampering, albeit for other reasons.
When Flores was brought into Pittsburgh in 2022, it was an effort spearheaded by head coach Mike Tomlin that team president Art Rooney II stood firmly behind. “Mike came to me and said he thought that Brian was available and was interested in coming, and that he was interested in hiring him,” Rooney II said. “That’s when we started the discussion.”
Flores, named senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach, wasn’t an addition to fulfil an obligation to a cause but to utilize an experienced individual who could improve the Steelers’ defense in areas where it was struggling the most: the run defense and interior linebacker play. And it worked.
At the beginning of the season, Pittsburgh was bargain basement when it came to giving up huge yardage to opponents on the ground. In a league where fans are still convinced there’s a huge impetus placed on aerial shootouts, the teams that had a grinding, pounding run game were the ones giving opposing defenses fits. For the Steelers, a change was critical before the season completely got away from them.
Flores, who players have credited with creating necessary changes while having very high expectations and no issues in asking for more, got tough and helped Pittsburgh’s run defense go from the bottom to inside the top ten of all teams across the league.
One of those adjustments involved defensive sub-packages and assignments Steelers linebackers were asked to step up and into. On any given Sunday, the rotation of personnel wasn’t solely based on “starters,” but on the isolating their opponent’s strengths and turning them into a one-dimensional foe. It also changed how often linebackers were asked to blitz and pressure, how often, and where the point of attack came from.
“I am demanding,” Flores admitted. “I make no bones about it. I think Mike’s (Tomlin) demanding. A lot of the coaches. That is coaching. Our guys have responded to it well. I think when you are trying to help someone grow, get better, they need those details, that push to get better, get to the next level.”
The results were obvious as Pittsburgh held team’s top rushers to smaller gains. There was no ignoring the stats sheets. As a result, opposing quarterbacks and offensive lines we’re forced to adjust in-game, opening opportunities for Pittsburgh’s defensive line and secondary to take advantage of.
One of the focuses this off-season will be in scouting collegiate players ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft, and interior linebackers is a predicted area where the Steelers will investigate heavily. Having Flores, who is admittedly passionate about the aspects of developing elements of a team, available would be of benefit to the Steelers as they continue to build on the success they found in the last half of the 2022 season.
“That’s what I love to do, all aspects of it,” Flores said when he joined the Steelers. “It’s sitting in meetings, going back and forth with offensive coaches, getting on the field and going through individual techniques with players, getting to those settings where you’re not working with your group … putting the team element together.”
The fact that Flores does have head coaching experience makes him an asset in finding players that can be molded and coached into the system Pittsburgh wants for its future.
If the parties can come together this off-season to agree to building that future together, there are far more benefits than deficits in how the Steelers organization, as a whole, can aggressively pursue a culture of success in a city that prides itself on rising above past defeats.