Trey Flowers has been iron man for Patriots defense through five weeks


Trey Flowers has been iron man for Patriots defense through five weeks

While reviewing the film of the Patriots-Buccaneers matchup from Thursday night, there was a play in the third quarter that stood out before the ball was even snapped. 

Where was Trey Flowers? A mainstay on the Patriots defensive line, it was odd not to see him at the line of scrimmage. 


He was out there, though. As a middle linebacker.

It was a reminder of a) the different alignments Matt Patricia likes to deploy in the front-seven and b) just how reluctant the Patriots have been to remove one of their best defensive players from the field. 

Flowers missed just two snaps against the Bucs -- when Geneo Grissom subbed in to give him a brief breather in the fourth quarter -- and for the season he's been sidelined for only eight snaps total. 

Not bad for the 6-foot-2, 265-pounder. Especially considering that Flowers appeared to be playing through some lower-body discomfort at the ends of both the Chiefs and Texans games. 

"Level of conditioning is good," Bill Belichick said of the third-year end. "Trey works hard. He’s given us a lot of quality snaps. He has . . . been on the field quite a bit but, you know, he’s earned that playing time. We’ll see how it goes going forward. 

"He’s got good versatility for us. There’s a number of different things that he can do well. He works very hard to perform well. He trains hard. Some of that is the function of other players on the team and their roles and, again, what defense we’re in, the type of team we’re playing against, how much nickel, how much base and so forth. We just have to see how all of that goes on a week-to-week basis. He’s done a good job for us and I’m glad that we’ve had him out there."

It really hasn't mattered what the situation is. The Patriots have had Flowers out there and in a variety of roles. 

His debut at middle linebacker doesn't figure to be a sign that the Patriots will be using him there extensively going forward, but he plays on the end, as a three-technique, and right on the nose over opposing centers. 

Flowers has long arms and bevy of pass-rush moves that have been detailed in this space in the past, and they're certainly no secret to his opponents after notching a 2.5-sack performance in Super Bowl LI. 

Yet offenses haven't been able to figure him out. He's among the NFL's top-10 edge defenders, according to Pro Football Focus, in quarterback sacks (4), hits (7) and hurries (14). His 24 total pressures are ninth in the league regardless of position. 

And while Flowers is at his best going up the field, the Patriots have used Flowers to drop into coverage on a handful of occasions as well. 

"I don’t think he was asked to do a lot of that at Arkansas, but we’ve asked him to do some of those things in terms of coverage and playing inside, playing in the three technique," Belichick said. "He did a little bit of that in college but not a lot, probably more since he’s been here. He’s done a good job of applying himself in those situations and being a good contributor for us there."

Bill Belichick has asked some of his top defensive ends to play extensively in the past, with Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich as two of the foremost examples of the coach's willingness to lean on ends as long as they're conditioning is up to snuff. 

Jones played 97.9 percent of the team's snaps in 2013, and he's on pace to hit 97 percent again this season for the Cardinals as the only defensive lineman with more snaps played (333) than Flowers (331). Ninkovich, meanwhile, played at least 80 percent of New England's defensive snaps from 2011-2015, and he broke the 90 percent marker in 2013 (96.0) and 2014 (94.1). 

It seems as though Flowers is next in line as the iron man on the edge of the Patriots defense. He's on pace to play 97.6 percent of their defensive snaps, and he's already approaching the halfway point of his total from last season (726, including playoffs). The only Patriots defenders to see more playing time than Flowers this season are Devin McCourty (338) and Kyle Van Noy (333). 

'Leprechaun' Gronk dropping more hints about future plans - sort of

'Leprechaun' Gronk dropping more hints about future plans - sort of

Rob Gronkowski, decked out in his finest St. Patrick's Day duds over the weekend in Nashville, reportedly tried to shed some light on his NFL future.

Of course, while Gronk was doing Gronk things, he told a Patriots fan one thing and a reporter another.

Breech is an NFL writer for His father is former Cincinnati Bengals kicker Jim Breech. And the "69ers" aren't a real team.


AFC East is starting to prepare for post-Brady life

AFC East is starting to prepare for post-Brady life

The Patriots' "direction" never really changes. They're always "going for it" because they're always one of the best teams in the league. 

The rest of the AFC East is usually in flux. The other teams range from hoping for 8-8 to trying to bottom out in hopes of a high draft pick. Yet right now, it seems the stars are aligning and that the Jets, Bills and Dolphins all have the mindset: Change things now and be ready to pounce once Brady is gone. 

The Jets traded up to No. 3 on Saturday, assuring themselves a chance at one of this draft's top quarterbacks. The Bills, with picks Nos. 12 and 22, are expected by pundits to make a similar move up. The Dolphins, fresh off cutting bait with Ndamukong Suh in an attempt at a culture change, have the 11th pick and could use it on a quarterback to either push or replace Ryan Tannehill. 

None of the three teams are close to pushing the Patriots as long as Brady's around, even with the Bills coming off a season in which they reached the playoffs. Yet there's a two-or-three-year plan on which all three teams could have designs: Get the quarterback now, build around him and be in a good situation by the time Brady is done. 

We've seen these teams try to rebuild before during the Brady Era, with only limited success. Mark Sanchez worked out better in New York than anyone could have initially expected, but that success lasted way shorter than any believers could have hoped. Now, it seems they try again. 

Over in Buffalo, the end of the Tyrod Taylor era hardly means the beginning of the Nathan Peterman era. Those two first-rounders should easily be able to get the Bills into the top five, and they've also got two second-rounders and two third-rounders. Hell, they have the pieces to get to No. 1 if Cleveland is bold enough to pass on their choice of Darnold/Rosen/Allen/Mayfield. 

The Dolphins are in the more interesting spot. Tannehill missed all of last season and he's 29. If you're six years into your career and your team still isn't totally sure if you can be one of the better QBs in the league, you probably aren't one of the better QBs in the league. At the very least, Lamar Jackson should be there at No. 11. They could also trade up. 

At the start of last season, the Patriots had far and away the two best QBs in the AFC East. Now, it stands to reason that at least two of their divisional opponents (the Jets and Bills) will come away with what they hope are franchise quarterbacks. And if any of these guys hit, the Pats will have gone from the best QB situation in the NFL to seeing some actual competition waiting for them by the time their own quarterback is done. 

Of course, all three of these teams usually suck at everything, so it shouldn't be a big deal.