In 2018, Brian Flores was in his 15th year as an assistant coach for the New England Patriots, having just been elevated to defensive play-caller (defensive coordinator in all but name) after Matt Patricia departed to become head coach of the Detroit Lions.
That season — in which Patrick Mahomes was named the NFL MVP during his first year as a starter — he twice did his best to stop the Kansas City Chiefs offense. The Patriots narrowly won both games — including the AFC championship at Arrowhead Stadium — but Kansas City scored 71 points against a New England defense that had allowed just 19 points per game against all other comers.
Now with an 8-4 record during his second year as head coach of the Miami Dolphins, he’ll be facing the Chiefs again this Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium.
“I remember it was hard to stop them,” Flores told Miami reporters on Wednesday, via MiamiDolphins.com. “It’s still hard — it’s probably harder now.”
The Chiefs’ 2018 triumvirate of offensive stars — Mahomes, tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Tyreek Hill — remain. Together, they’ve accumulated 2,194 receiving yards (and 21 touchdowns) on the way to the 11-1 record they are bringing to Miami.
“Yeah, you’ve seen a lot of growth — obviously — since the last time I was on the field coaching against this group,” said Flores. “They’re better. They’re confident. They play hard. They execute. They’ve got good coaches. If [Chiefs offensive coordinator] Eric Bieniemy is not a head coach here soon, something is wrong.”
But as far as Flores is concerned, the problem isn’t just Hill and Kelce — now ranked second and third in NFL receiving yards behind Seattle Seahawks wide receiver D.K. Metcalf. Mahomes has racked up an additional 1,678 yards (and 10 more touchdowns) to no fewer than 13 other Chiefs. Even left tackle Eric Fisher has a touchdown reception in 2020. It leads to a conundrum for opposing defenses.
“Who do you want to put on Sammy Watkins?” asked Flores. “Who do you want to put on Mecole Hardman? Who do you want to put on Demarcus Robinson? We’ve got to handle the backs, too. Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s a good back. Le’Veon Bell’s not a slouch, either.
“I wish we could have 14 defenders. That’d be nice.”
We checked to be sure. It’s just as we thought: under NFL rules, that is not allowed.
But what is allowed are gestures of respect and friendship between head coaches.
Speaking to South Florida reporters this week, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid revealed that after the Dolphins dispatched Flores’ former team 27-24 to close out Miami’s 2019 5-11 season — a win that opened the door for Kansas City to wrest the AFC’s top seed from the Patriots — Reid sent Flores a thank-you gift.
“So, I thought I’d just send him a little thought from Kansas City, you know,” recalled Reid, via the Miami Sun Sentinel. “Kansas City is known for its barbecue, so no better present to get from the good Kansas City barbecue here.”
And according to Flores, he and his family made quick work of it.
“It was good barbecue – it went fast,” he told reporters. “Had my brothers over — not sure if we had some other people over. We enjoyed it. So I was very thankful to Andy for that. And yeah... it went very quickly. Kansas City barbecue is very good.”
If the Dolphins had been scheduled to play the Pittsburgh Steelers during the final weeks of the 2020 season, there definitely would have been an opportunity for Flores to get some more of it.