Patriots pass rush comes to life with seven sacks vs. Dolphins


Patriots pass rush comes to life with seven sacks vs. Dolphins

FOXBORO -- The Dolphins couldn't have forgotten about Trey Flowers, right? The guy who bust onto the scene last year and put together a 2.5-sack performance in the Super Bowl? The guy who's been on the field for about 90 percent of the defensive snaps for Bill Belichick and easily his top pass-rusher?

That's what it looked like late in the second quarter when Flowers sprung past left tackle Laremy Tunsil and into the Dolphins backfield to sack Matt Moore. It might've been the easiest of the six sacks Flowers has recorded this season. 

But that play, Flowers explained, might have been more than just a lapse in concentration on Miami's part. It might've been the byproduct of the Patriots throwing varied rushes at opposing offenses for the last few weeks. 


"That's just one of the things, you give them different looks, you confuse the offensive line, and they don't know who's coming," Flowers said. "It might've been a lack of communication on their end, but that's just the different looks and the different things we throw at them to have them have to communicate. If they're not on the same page, then we get pressure."

The Patriots are short on man-power in the front-seven -- particularly when it comes to the edge-defender spot -- but they've been able to use some deception as a means of slowing down quarterbacks lately, and during their 35-17 victory on Sunday they sacked Moore seven times for 61 yards. 

"You want to mix it up a little," Flowers said. "Throw different guys at him. And we were able to execute as far as the different pass-rush games and things like that. Preparation, execution."

The Patriots have dialed up the head games after incorporating it most noticeably during their win over the Chargers in Week 8. They will at times show linebackers at the line of scrimmage, then drop them. Other times, 'backers will remain at the second level and rush. Ends will mix up their tendencies, rushing on one play and then dripping into coverage on the next. The Patriots have even started bringing corners to pressure, and one of their sacks came late in the fourth quarter courtesy of Jonathan Jones. 

Game flow helped the Patriots generate as much pressure as they did. With a big lead, they knew the Dolphins had to throw -- especially late. Four of their sacks came in the fourth quarter, and two came late in the third with the Patriots up three scores.

"I think the score had a lot to do with that," Belichick said after. "Anytime you can get ahead in the game, most of the second half, probably middle of the third quarter, the last third of the game was a lot of passing, a lot of pass rush with the lead, so it gives you an opportunity to rush the passer better. 

"Guys did a good job. We had contributions from a lot of different players, got some pressure from our linebackers, from our secondary and from our defensive linemen. But, yeah, I think being ahead in the game certainly helps the pass rush."

Having players who understand the system also helps. They can get a little more exotic when players know where to be and how to cover for the player who just vacated his area to get after the quarterback. 

Flowers had two sacks, as did Elandon Roberts (one of which came when the Dolphins mistakenly ignored his rush from the second level). Kyle Van Noy chipped in with a hard-earned sack, fighting through a holding penalty, immediately before he left the game with a lower-leg issue. Even newcomer Eric Lee got in on the act, notching his first-career sack just days after being signed off of the Bills practice squad and added to the 53-man roster in New England.  

"A lot of people understand the game plan," said Flowers, who left the game in the third quarter with a rib injury. "When you get a lot of people to understand the scheme and understand what we're trying to do, you can mix it up and have a lot of different looks. We get the game plan, we prepare well, and you've got a lot of people comfortable where you are."


How the compensatory pick formula may impact Patriots free-agent calls

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How the compensatory pick formula may impact Patriots free-agent calls

How highly do the Patriots value their mid-round draft picks? We'll find out as the run on NFL free agents continues this week. 

If Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio plan to make any signings from outside the organization, they'll have to factor into that decision what they will be giving up. Money and cap space matter . . . sure. But there is draft capital at stake.  

The Patriots are currently projected to land two third-round compensatory picks in 2019 after losing both Malcolm Butler and Nate Solder in free agency. There's real value there, and the decision-makers at One Patriot Place may be reluctant to give that up. 

Recent Patriots third-round picks include Derek Rivers, Tony Garcia, Joe Thuney, Jacoby Brissett, Vincent Valentine, Geneo Grissom, Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan. 


Before we get into how the Patriots might lose those third-round comp picks if they remain active in free-agency, it's worth noting how comp picks are assigned. 

The compensatory-pick formula the league uses has never been published, but we know the basics. It's based on free agents lost and free agents acquired in a given year by a particular team. The level of those players is taken into consideration -- based on salary, playing time and other factors -- and then picks are issued to teams who have lost more (or better) free agents than they acquired. Only free agents whose contracts have expired (not players who've been released) qualify for the compensatory-pick formula.'s Nick Korte is the best in the business when it comes to predicting how many picks teams will land based on their free-agent losses and acquisitions, and he has the Patriots down for two third-rounders in 2019 and nothing else. 

That may sound surprising given the Patriots lost Dion Lewis and Danny Amendola in addition to Butler and Solder, but that's the way the formula broke, according to Korte. The Adrian Clayborn signing (given a sixth-round value by OTC) cancelled out the Amendola loss (sixth-round value). The Matt Tobin signing (seventh-round value) cancelled out the Lewis loss (sixth-round value). And the Jeremy Hill signing (seventh-round value) cancelled out the Johnson Bademosi loss (sixth-round value). 

Why do Tobin and Hill cancel out Amendola and Lewis, despite being lower-value moves? Here's how OTC describes the process. (Free agents who qualify for the comp-pick formula are known as Compensatory Free Agents or CFAs.)

1. A CFA gained by a team cancels out the highest-valued available CFA lost that has the same round valuation of the CFA gained.

2. If there is no available CFA lost in the same round as the CFA gained, the CFA gained will instead cancel out the highest-available CFA lost with a lower round value.

3. A CFA gained will only cancel out a CFA lost with a higher draft order if there are no other CFAs lost available to cancel out. 

That final point is key. An example? The Seahawks recently signed CFA Jaron Brown, a seventh-round value. The only Seahawks "CFAs lost" available to cancel out the move were Paul Richardson and Jimmy Graham, both fourth-round values. Even though there's a three-round difference between Brown and Richardson, per Korte's projections, those moves still will cancel each other out. 

With that in mind, the Patriots may want to tread lightly when it comes to signing free agents who will qualify toward the comp-pick formula. They could lose out on the third-rounders they've received for Solder and Butler even if they sign a lower-value free agent.

Players like Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro or Raiders linebacker NaVorro Bowman would count toward the comp-pick formula. Would their value to the team be such that losing a 2019 third-round pick wouldn't matter to the Patriots? Or would their comp-pick impact hurt their chances of being picked up in New England? My guess would be the latter. 

The good news for the Patriots is that re-signing their own players -- like offensive tackles LaAdrian Waddle and/or Cam Fleming -- doesn't impact the comp-pick setup. Neither does signing players who've been released, meaning the Patriots could theoretically make a splash by signing Ndamukong Suh or Eric Ebron and they'd retain their comp picks.

Given the Patriots made just four draft picks last year, and since comp picks can be traded now (that rule was changed last year), it would come as little surprise if retaining those picks weighed heavily on Belichick and Caserio's decisions as they move through the remainder of the offseason. 


Report: Patriots special teams ace Slater visiting Steelers

Report: Patriots special teams ace Slater visiting Steelers

Patriots seven-time Pro Bowl special teamer Matthew Slater is in Pittsburgh on Saturday making a free-agent visit to the rival Steelers, according to an ESPN's Field Yates.

Slater, who turns 33 in September, has spent the past 10 seasons in a New England. The special teams captain and one of the leaders in the locker room signed a one-year, $1.8 million contract extension in 2016.

The Patriots lost special teamer Johnson Bademosi to the Texans in free agency on Friday but signed special teamers Brandon Bolden and Brandon King just before the free agency period began.

More to come...