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Trey Flowers is the unsung hero of the Patriots’ defense

Big-time players make big-time plays when their teams need it most. Flowers helped the Patriots get back to the Super Bowl, and earned retired NFL defensive end Stephen White’s Hoss of the Week award for his efforts.

AFC Championship - Jacksonville Jaguars v New England Patriots Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

At 6’2” and somewhere around 265 pounds, Patriots 3-4 “defensive end” Trey Flowers is what most people would call a little undersized for the position. Actually, undersized might be an understatement.

Normally when you think about 3-4 defensive ends, you’re talking about the J.J. Watts and Chris Joneses, of the world, both of whom are closer to 6’5” and 300 pounds. And yet even at his stature, Flowers has been a force for the Patriots the last two seasons from that position.

Well, sort of.

It’s a little misleading to call Flowers a defensive end considering all the roles he plays up and down the front line from the edge to the interior. One play, he might be a stand-up outside linebacker on the line of scrimmage; the next he might be lined us as a defensive tackle in the A gap.

That is not exactly normal.

Especially since no matter where he lines up, Flowers still finds a way to make plays. Even at his size, Flowers plays with a lot of power, but he also wins with athleticism, technique, and — maybe most of all — effort. He gets after it every play, even when he’s double teamed. If you want to use the word “relentless” to praise an NFL player’s effort, Flowers is one of the guys who actually deserves that moniker.

Flowers is certainly one of the best, if not the best pass rusher on that squad. He can definitely get after the quarterback from just about any and every alignment, but it would be a grave mistake to assume he is just a pass rusher.

While he is short by NFL standards, Flowers has some ridiculously long arms (34 14 inches) and he is very effective at using them to keep blockers off his body. That’s partially because he is also strong as a damn ox, which makes it a lot harder to move him off the ball than most guys his size. That combination of length and strength along with, again, his technique helps Flowers to make a lot of plays against the run as well.

So while most of his highlights may come from getting pressure on the quarterback, if you watch closely you’ll see Flowers getting nasty against the run on the regular, too.

In this, his third year in the league, there is no doubt at this point that offensive coordinators have to account for Flowers on damn near every play. Otherwise there is a good chance he will fuck their shit up.

I would say his production in Sunday’s AFC Championship game was just more of the same for Flowers, but in it he raised his already high level of play and intensity and balled out of his damn mind. His big day also had a direct effect on helping his team earn yet another berth to the Super Bowl.

As I rewatched the film, Flowers just kept popping up on a lot of plays I hadn’t noticed him making while watching it live. Once I finally tallied up his damage against the Jaguars, I was amazed at his production because it was so damn ridiculous. By my count Flowers had three pressures, a pass breakup, and 11, count ’em, 11 total tackles.

Now without any context at all for those stats, I think everyone would agree that, at least on paper, Flowers had a really good game. When you delve a little deeper, however, and look at the timing and the impact some of those plays had on the outcome of the game, you end up even more blown away by Flowers’ exploits.

I will just highlight a few of the plays I’m referring to to refresh your memory.

He broke the wheel.

With 5:20 left in the first quarter, the Jaguars had a second-and-8 at their own 39-yard line.

Flowers was lined up as the right three technique on the outside shoulder of Jacksonville left guard Patrick Omameh. Kyle Van Noy was standing up on the line like a rush linebacker, outside of rookie left tackle Cam Robinson.

On the snap, Robinson stepped down inside to block Flowers, but, unfortunately for him, Flowers was already stunting outside anyway. Robinson was ill-prepared for Flowers’ quickness, and Flowers was able to do a quick swipe of Robinson’s forearms with his hands as Robinson stepped down hard to try to pin Flowers inside before Robinson could get his hands on him. To ensure that Robinson could not recover, Flowers then finished him off by coming through with a big rip move with Flowers’ inside arm. Flowers’ superb quickness and technique allowed him to beat Robinson quickly and cleanly around the edge. And Patriots fans should be thankful for that.

The reason Flowers was stunting outside in the first place was because Van Noy had to drop into coverage. That left Flowers to keep containment on Blake Bortles. Jacksonville seemingly anticipated that Van Noy would have T.J. Yeldon to the flat, so they had the wide receiver to that side, Dede Westbrook, come in and pick Van Noy in order to help Yeldon get open on a wheel route.

Westbrook got a good bump on Van Noy, and that was enough to give Yeldon a bit of a head start as he headed up the sideline. It should have been a relatively easy throw to Yeldon, even for Bortles, in the hole between the trailing Van Noy and Pats safety Devin McCourty who was coming from the deep middle.

If Bortles does make a decent throw there, the Jaguars are going to be somewhere around the Patriots’ 35-yard line, at worst, provided Yeldon hauls it in. Hell, if Yeldon catches that ball in stride and is able to make McCourty miss, we might be talking about a house call.

Because Flowers was on him right away, Bortles had to throw off his back foot and also try to get the throw over Flowers’ outstretched hand. (Remember those long arms?)

The resulting pass kinda floated up in the air for awhile before it finally came down just a hair behind Yeldon. The pass wasn’t too far off target, but it was underthrown just enough to give Van Noy a chance to hawk Yeldon down and make a play on the ball.

Instead of a big play for the Jaguars, it turned into a pass breakup for Van Noy on a day where Bortles actually threw the ball pretty well, for the most part.

The Jaguars wound up punting two plays later.

Getting in the way.

The Jaguars got the ball to start the second half and promptly marched from their own 25-yard line down to the Patriots’ 36-yard line where they ended up facing a third-and-4.

After the debacle of an ending to the first half that saw Jacksonville miss out on a probable field goal opportunity, if not more, because of a delay of game penalty that saw New England score their first touchdown of the game on the ensuing drive, the Jags needed to answer with a score of their own in the worst way to regain momentum.

On this critical third down, the Jaguars came out with wide receivers Westbrook and Marqise Lee in tight splits on the left side of the formation. Tight end Marcedes Lewis and wide receiver Allen Hurns, who was also in a tight split, were to the right side of the formation. Before the snap, Lee motioned all the way across the formation until he was outside of Hurns on the other side.

Just as Lee got past Hurns, Bortles called for the snap and sprinted out toward Lee on a rollout pass. Lee angled up the field toward the right sideline until he was around four yards up the field. Then, he flattened out his route to gain separation from cornerback Stephon Gilmore and to get just past the depth of the sticks. As he was sprinting out to his right, Bortles saw Lee breaking open and Bortles quickly unloaded a throw in Lee’s direction that looked, initially, like an accurate throw.

I say initially because we will never know if that throw would have made it to Lee or if Lee would have caught it for the first down because Flowers almost intercepted it.

Yes, you read that right.

Flowers had been aligned head up on Lewis, who was lined up as a tight end to the offense’s right side. When the ball was snapped right tackle Jermey Parnell and Lewis tried to work together to combo block Flowers and pin him inside, but Flowers simply was not going.

First, Flowers punched Parnell in the chest with Flowers’ inside hand to keep Parnell up off him. Then, after recognizing it was a rollout pass his way, Flowers ripped hard to get outside of Lewis so he could get containment on Bortles. Right as Flowers made his way past Lewis, Bortles was releasing the football so Flowers instinctively threw his hands up and was damn near able to catch the ball, before it slipped through his hands and fell harmlessly to the turf for an incompletion.

Hello, fourth down!

Even though it wasn’t an interception, that pass breakup from Flowers forced the Jags into kicking a field goal when what they really needed was a touchdown. Also, let’s not forget that the Patriots ultimately only won by four points.

Anybody can get it.

With a little over five minutes left in the game and Jacksonville clinging on to a three-point lead for dear life, the Jaguars found themselves facing a third-and-10 at their own 9-yard line. If they could’ve just made a few first downs on that drive the Jags might be getting ready for the Super Bowl right now. They actually had a really good shot to make a first down on that play ... until Flowers showed up to ruin their best-laid plans yet again.

Jacksonville ran what I would describe as a downfield screen. They had Lee and Lewis lined up in tight splits to the left of the formation and Hurns and receiver Keelan Cole in tight splits to the right.

On the snap, Lewis pushed upfield while Lee ran a crossing route underneath him. Yeldon, who was lined up in the backfield, ran a wheel route to their side. On the right side, Hurns also pushed upfield while Cole ran a crossing route underneath him. Cole’s crossing route was a little more shallow than Lee’s, however so they could avoid running into each other and also so Lee could clear out the short middle coverage for Cole.

The effect of all of these routes together was that Lewis was in position to block McCourty, who started off at safety depth. Yeldon was in position to block Patriots safety Jordan Richards who was playing as a linebacker, and Cole was wide ass open headed in their direction with a chance to beat an unblocked Gilmore one-on-one for the first down ... if Bortles got the ball in his hands. It wouldn’t have even taken a particularly perfect pass. As long as Cole could have caught it without having to come to a complete stop, he would have had decent chance of moving the sticks.

But he didn’t get that chance because guess who was on Bortles’ ass again?

That dude Trey Flowers!

This time the uber versatile, but “undersized” Flowers was lined up as a zero nose, head up on Jaguars center Brandon Linder.

On the snap, he showed Linder his right hand as a decoy to get him leaning that way, then Flowers came back with a mean club with his left hand under Linder’s right elbow. Flowers knocked Linder knocked off balance with that club and transitioned to a rip move with his right arm as he moved to rush in the A gap to Linder’s right. When the first rip didn’t do the job, Flowers re-ripped to get Linder’s hands off him and got upfield in a hurry.

Bortles had barely finished his drop back before Flowers was breathing down his neck again. The quarterback had to quickly try to avoid taking the sack. He was still able to get the pass away before Flowers could take him to the ground, but being jostled by Flowers forced Bortles’ throw into the ground behind the wide ass open Cole.

That play still might not seem like that big of a deal to you, but consider this: If Cole catches the ball and doesn’t get the first down, he still should’ve gotten the ball close to the 19-yard line, which would have been better for field position’s sake.

That pressure forced the Jaguars to punt from their own 9-yard line, ensuring good field position for the Patriots, who don’t generally need any more help to score. Danny Amendola ends up catching the punt on the 50-yard line and returns it 20 yards to the Jaguars’ 30. Five plays later, the Patriots score the game-winning, go-ahead touchdown.

Does it sound like big deal now?

Big-time players make big plays in big games.

Last year after the Patriots pulled off the greatest comeback win in Super Bowl history, if not NFL history, I pointed out that Flowers was one of the unsung heroes of that game. On Sunday with his team down in the AFC Championship, Flowers once again found a way to make the plays that helped them get back into it and eventually pull out the victory.

As I said before, his stat line was absolutely silly, but the fact that he made a lot of those plays in crucial moments of the game made his productivity even more impressive.

After watching him whup Jacksonville’s ass up and down their offensive line to help his team make the Super Bowl for the second year in a row, Trey Flowers was an easy choice for Hoss of the Week for Championship Weekend.