Trey Flowers

Flowers' sacks may be down but his impact isn't

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Flowers' sacks may be down but his impact isn't

FOXBORO - Trey Flowers appeared on the fast track to stardom in the second half of last season and right on through the playoffs. He spent about as much time in opposing backfields as the skill position players on those teams. 

Starting Week 8 at Buffalo, the defensive end racked up 9 1/2 sacks in the Patriots final dozen games, including 2 1/2 in the dramatic Super Bowl victory over Atlanta.

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Even with the departure of fellow edge rushers Jabaal Sheard, Chris Long and Rob Ninkovich, Flowers picked up right where he left off starting this season, dropping Alex Smith a pair of times in the opener versus Kansas City. However, since then, the soft-spoken Alabama native has recorded just 1 1/2 sacks and has actually been shut out in that category over the past three games. But don’t for a second think Flowers isn’t producing.

Kyle Van Noy credited Flowers for a couple of important penetrations in the Sunday night showdown with Atlanta and Adam Butler said his first ever NFL sack was a direct result of all the attention devoted to Flowers.

“I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help us win,” said Flowers. “Whatever the coaches ask, whatever the defense calls for, that’s what I’ll do.”

The Pats have asked for Flowers to fill a variety of roles this year up and down the line. Line up over the center? Sure. Head up on the guard? Why not? 3 technique? 5? 7? 9? If there’s a number for it, and a need, Flowers has done it. Maybe that’s been to his detriment and caused the sack shortage, but Flowers wouldn’t be there if he couldn’t handle it.

“Well, Trey's done some things like that for us in the past; not as much as he has this year,” said Bill Belichick. “This year we've had some different situations at the defensive end position at various points in time. Trey has a lot of experience or the most experience of our defensive linemen. He's also athletic and can handle a degree of versatility in our responsibilities. I’m not sure that’s always the best thing for him, but sometimes he’s the best we have at it. He does a good job and works hard at it and does what’s best for the team. One of the things you love about Trey is how committed he is to the team and how willing he is to do whatever it takes, whatever we need him to do and he does a pretty good job of it.”

Obviously, part of Flowers success is because of his physical abilities. At 6-2, 268 pounds, he has long arms, excellent power and short area quickness in addition to a motor that’s always running no matter where he lines up. But there are plenty of players in this league with measurables equal to or better than Flowers. That’s where the work ethic - he’s notorious for working on his craft long after practice and meetings are over - and his football smarts come into play. 

“Obviously I’ve been in the system,” he said. “I’m going on my third year, understanding what the coaches expect, how they want to attack certain quarterbacks, certain offenses. That time spent will help you out going into the game, knowing what they [coaches] want to do.”

Flowers says that maybe you don’t pick up a tendency or a call or a key right away but by continuing to work at it, continuing to study, you can pick up one or two things that may change the way a series goes or even a game. That’s enough for him.

“If I can call something to get us in the right position to make plays or to make a play myself, that’s where that work comes in.”

That extra effort is nothing new. Flowers has been the same guy since he walked into the building following the 2015 draft, where the Pats selected him in the fourth round.

“First and foremost what stands out about Trey is his work ethic and his approach to how he handles himself as a professional and to getting better,” said defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. “The classroom is the same. For him, I think it's something that he works extremely hard at and for a guy that can do a couple different things for us, his understanding of what we do, I think it's along the natural progression. There's not that many guys that just come in and right away, on the whole, if you look at everybody, that just play all the snaps immediately. So, he's a guy that falls into that category. Someone that's worked really hard to try to earn himself some play time on the field and has shown the consistency to be out there as much as we can get him out there and put him in those positions.”

Considering the Pats defensive issues, and availability issues up in general for the front seven, Flowers has been a rock. 

He’s played the fourth-most snaps of any player on the defense and has been one of the few to grade out positively week in and week out on Pro Football Focus. So while the sack numbers are down, Flowers remains one of the foundational pieces of a unit that was improving before the bye. 

It's a defense that believes it has all the pieces in place to make a long run into January and February. Freeing up Flowers will help the cause but his willingness to sacrifice himself and his stats for the better of the team should tell you all you need to know about the player and his importance for the 2017-18 Patriots. That makes him a star in the Patriots world and that - for now - is more than enough for Flowers.

Flowers' dependability puts him in Patriots defensive MVP conversation

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Flowers' dependability puts him in Patriots defensive MVP conversation

FOXBORO -- It's been a revolving door at defensive end for the Patriots in 2017. You know the moves by now: Rob Ninkovich out; Derek Rivers hurt; Kony Ealy cut; Cassius Marsh signed; Dont'a Hightower in; Hightower out; Hightower back in; Harvey Langi injured in a car wreck; Hightower out again.

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?There has essentially been one constant at the position. Week after week. Snap after snap after snap. Trey Flowers has been a mainstay for the Patriots up front, finding himself near the top of the list of the league's edge defenders in terms of playing time. He's arguably the most valuable player on Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia's defense at the moment because without him, their issues on the edge would be dire. And he hasn't just played outside. Flowers has played over the nose and as a defensive tackle, all things he did last season successfully. 

But this year, with so many moving pieces, the third-year player out of Arkansas has been forced to occasionally drop into coverage. Not because it's where his skill set is best deployed, but because given the depth at the position he's simply better suited than others to execute those responsibilities. He's dropped back 33 times this season, according to Pro Football Focus, which is already more than the 26 times he was used in coverage in 2016. 

In Week 8 against the Chargers, Flowers was often employed as an interchangeable end opposite Kyle Van Noy. Together with off-the-ball linebackers like Elandon Roberts and David Harris, they would coordinate their rush and coverage responsibilities to help confuse the Los Angeles offensive line and quarterback Philip Rivers. 

We went into detail on some of those plays in this space last weekend.

"Trey's done some things like that for us in the past. Not as much as he has this year," Belichick said on Wednesday. "This year we've had some, had some different situations at the defensive end position at various points in time. Trey has a lot of experience -- or the most experience of our defensive linemen, and is also athletic and can handle a degree of versatility and responsibility.

"I'm not sure that's always the best thing for him, but sometimes he's the best we have at it. He does a good job and works hard at it, does what's best for the team, which is one of the things you love about Trey is how committed he is to the team, how willing he is to do whatever it takes and whatever we need him to do. And he does a pretty good job of it."

Van Noy is the best replacement for Hightower as a true linebacker-slash-end hybrid, and Marsh -- a very good athlete who contributes extensively on special teams because of his combination of size and speed -- may be the next closest thing. But the Patriots obviously feel comfortable using Flowers, their top pass-rusher, in a variety of roles because he's dependable. 

Deatrich Wise has had an impactful rookie season, but he's more of an end-slash-tackle hybrid, not someone who is going to be used to cover the flats -- at this point in his career, at least. Linebackers like Marquis Flowers and Trevor Reilly could potentially give the Patriots some depth at that versatile end spot, but they are primarily special-teamers with limited experience defensively. Shea McClellin would have been an ideal fit for the role Flowers has found himself in more frequently this season, but Belichick confirmed on Wednesday that McClellin will not be activated off of injured reserve. 

With the trade deadline passed and McClellin out of the mix, it looks like the Patriots picture at end is what it is, which means it could be more of the same for Flowers for the remainder of the season. It's probably not his best role, but given the Patriots circumstances at end, their hands are kind of forced.

Help isn't on the way, so here's how Patriots will address areas of need

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Help isn't on the way, so here's how Patriots will address areas of need

Other than Brian Hoyer, there's no help on the way for Bill Belichick's club. 

The trade deadline passed on Tuesday with the Patriots standing pat after dealing Jimmy Garoppolo to San Francisco in exchange for a second-round pick. Malcolm Butler stuck. All four of their running backs stuck. All of the 2018 draft picks that they came into the week with stuck as well. 

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It could be argued that top-end draft picks to infuse some youth into the club was an area of need, which the Patriots addressed with the Garoppolo deal. But in terms of immediate help? They steered clear, whether it was by choice or because they couldn't find a team willing to trade.

The Patriots roster, as Belichick would say, is what it is. So what does his team do about some of its apparent areas of need? Let's roll through those needs and lay out some options . . . 

PASS RUSH: This seemed to be a spot where the Patriots could use a boost, particularly when Dont'a Hightower went out. Trey Flowers is playing a ton -- he has seen the second-most snaps of any edge defender, according to Pro Football Focus. Behind him on the depth chart are Deatrich Wise, who produced well at the end of Sunday's win over the Chargers, and Cassius Marsh. Adam Butler has been used as a sub rusher from the interior, but edge depth could be an issue if another player went down. What was interesting about Sunday's game was that Kyle Van Noy played more on the end of the line, leaving Elandon Roberts and David Harris more playing time in the middle of the field. The Patriots avoided using Harris early in the season, but they may need to rely on the veteran more moving forward if they try to make up for their pass-rush deficiencies by moving Van Noy down onto the line of scrimmage more often. Another name to keep an eye on as a potential pass-rush boost: Shea McClellin. He has experience both off the line and on the edge, and he's eligible to return off of injured reserve after the bye week. Between McClellin, Van Noy, Roberts and Harris, my opinion is that the team's off-the-line linebacker spot is actually pretty well-stocked in terms of numbers. But finding consistent edge help behind Flowers and Wise will require someone to step up. 

TIGHT END: The Dwayne Allen Experience has not gone as planned to this point. He has seen more time over the last two weeks as the Patriots have used multiple tight end sets in order to establish their running game, and he was able to sustain some effective blocks against the Chargers. But over the course of the season, he's been inconsistent as a blocker and invisible in the passing game. He has not been targeted since Week 4 and he does not have a catch this season. It was interesting to see Jacob Hollister get the No. 2 tight end reps during the two-minute drill at the end of the first half against the Chargers. Though Allen is probably viewed as the better blocker, Hollister seems to be the more viable target at the moment in passing situations. Practice squad tight end Will Tye is in the building and has more experience than most p-squadders. Would the team ever turn to him if it felt like it wasn't getting what it wanted from Rob Gronkowski's backups? Helping Hollister (40 snaps this season, three catches) and Allen (195 snaps) is the fact that both contribute on special teams. 

RECEIVER: Chris Hogan has been banged up with a rib injury since Week 6 and now a shoulder injury that could jeopardize his availability following the bye week. Danny Amendola played against the Chargers and returned punts, but he's dealing with a knee issue suffered in Week 7. Phillip Dorsett has managed a knee issue for much of the season. Brandin Cooks is healthy, but he may be the only one. If the Patriots need help here, odds are the team would turn to its depth at running back to fill in the gaps. But if they're looking for a receiver to chip in, they have Cody Hollister, Jake Kumerow and Riley McCarron on the practice squad. And don't forget: Malcolm Mitchell is eligible to return off of IR if he's able. Each team can bring back two players from IR, and McClellin looks like he'll be the first. The Patriots could also choose to bring back defensive tackle Vincent Valentine, but the decision between Valentine and Mitchell will come down to multiple factors, including how the rehab process is going for each, and what the depth chart looks like at their positions.

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