As storylines naturally flowing from Sunday night’s game between the Steelers and Dolphins go, this one has gotten lost in the shuffle. It shouldn’t.
Former Dolphins coach Brian Flores returns to Miami as the Steelers’ senior defensive assistant/linebackers coach. Flores coached the Dolphins for the first two years of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa‘s career.
Last year, things were tumultuous, to say the least. The team tried repeatedly to trade for quarterback Deshaun Watson. Flores was believed to be at the forefront of the pro-Watson movement. Which necessarily undermined Tua.
The rumors first reached a fever pitch in late August. Tua, as we’ve heard from multiple sources, wasn’t happy about the situation. We heard he was voted a captain, but he passed on the honor due to the lingering question about whether the Dolphins would trade for Watson.
Earlier this week, Tua was asked generally for his thoughts on facing Flores.
“I think it’ll be cool being able to go up against the guys that he’s coaching on that side,” Tagovailoa told reporters. “I know he knows personnel really well from being here with us. But I think we’re all excited to go up against their defense. You hear a Pittsburgh Steelers defense and you just think of hard-nosed. You think of a really tough defense. They’re going to give us some good challenges in this game.”
What about the fact that Flores knows how Tua plays?
“I’ve been with him for the past two years,” Tagovailoa said. “So he definitely knows what I like and what I don’t like. But then again, schematically, this is Mike [McDaniel’s] offense and this isn’t the same offense that I’ve been running while he’s been here the past two years.”
That’s the real question. Does the new offense make any knowledge Flores has of Tua irrelevant? Flores still knows what Tua does and doesn’t do well, what he wants to do and not do. Flores will know how to attack Tua, during a play or before it.
As Steelers defensive lineman Cam Heyward explained it to PFT after last week’s win over Tampa Bay, Flores (who spent years with Bucs quarterback Tom Brady in New England) told the Pittsburgh defense not to waste their time trying to confuse Brady with pre-snap looks. Maybe Flores feels differently about Tua. Maybe the Steelers will try to make him think the coverage is something other than what it will be, or that a blitz is coming when it isn’t. Or that a blitz isn’t coming when it is.
No matter how it plays out, Flores knows Tua well. The fact that the system is different does only so much to reduce the impact of what the knowledge that Flores has regarding his former quarterback.