Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Best Defensive Player Award: Trey Flowers

The Blitzies: Handing out the Patriots’ awards from the first half

By Jeff Howe

November 6, 2017

Unlike, say, the Oscars, Grammys and NFL Honors, the Blitzies mean something. The Herald’s sixth annual midseason awards have gained universal respect, and it’s not just another award show that puffs out its chest and tells everyone to love it.

Look, don’t take it from us. One recipient the other night was overheard saying, “This is the greatest night of my life, and I have three kids and a wife.”

So if you couldn’t get tickets into the sold-out event or you missed the live coverage on TV, here’s a recap of the 2017 Blitzies.

The G.O.A.T. Blitzie

For the best first half

Quarterback Tom Brady won this award for the sixth consecutive time, to the point where the committee had to change the name last year. The 40-year-old has been so good that the Patriots traded both of his backups, and he’ll be in the MVP conversation in December for the eighth consecutive season. Brady leads the NFL in completions (206), attempts (309) and yards (2,541), and he has 16 touchdowns to two interceptions. The one-man wolf pack is on pace for the second 5,000-yard season of his career.

The Bob Saget Award

For the most offensive player (non-Tom Brady section)

Tight end Rob Gronkowski is being challenged unlike any season of his career without Julian Edelman to take the pressure off him over the middle, but Gronk is second on the Patriots with 34 catches and 509 yards, and he is tied for the lead with five touchdowns. Defenses are doubling him with more aggressiveness and physicality, and Gronk isn’t getting much relief because backup Dwayne Allen has been a non-factor. Gronk’s teammates are benefitting from his presence, and if he plays the final eight games at this level, he could be a first-team All-Pro and earn that full $10.75 million salary.

The Kevin Garnett Award

For the best defensive player

Defensive lineman Trey Flowers encounters a steady stream of double teams, but he is still consistently the Patriots’ best pass rusher even though the sacks are down. He is tied for the team lead with 3.5 quarterback takedowns, though he doesn’t have one since Week 5, and he also has a team-best 11 quarterback hits, nine pressures and two batted passes. But wait, there’s more: Flowers has a forced fumble, two run stuffs and a drawn holding penalty.

The Andy Bernard Award

For the most improved character

Running back James White was a healthy scratch in 16-of-19 games as a rookie, and he is on his way to another record-setting season. White broke out last year, so the “most improved” label might be more of a lifetime achievement award than anything specific to this season. But really, it comes down to this: White was a complementary piece last year, and he is now a certified weapon. White leads the Patriots with 43 catches to go along with 365 yards and a touchdown, and he could be the first running back in the Tom Brady era to lead the Patriots in receptions. Tony Collins caught 77 passes in 1986 to set the franchise record for catches in a season by a running back, and that could fall soon.

The Mosi’s Mooses Award

For being an ace special teamer who blossomed elsewhere

The Patriots acquired cornerback Johnson Bademosi from the Lions prior to Week 1 to fill Matthew Slater’s role while the special teams captain was recovering from a torn hamstring. The five-year veteran had three starts on his resume and wasn’t used on defense this season until Week 6, when he leapfrogged Jonathan Jones and filled in for a concussed Stephon Gilmore. Bademosi’s physicality was well-established, but he really impressed his teammates with his defensive intellect. Quarterbacks throwing in his direction were 9-of-12 for 104 yards, and he added a third-down pass breakup. The Patriots were probably concerned about their depth at corner with Gilmore and Eric Rowe (torn groin) out, but Bademosi added confidence in case he is needed again.

The Michael Scott Award

For the best boss

Running backs coach Ivan Fears has been instrumental in White’s development and had to keep Dion Lewis’ confidence intact early in the season when the offense looked elsewhere. The Patriots also had big plans in store for Rex Burkhead before his Week 2 rib injury. All the while, Mike Gillislee still leads the Pats with 98 carries, 344 yards and four touchdowns. The Patriots rank 15th in rushing, and White, Lewis and Burkhead have combined for 65 catches, 551 yards and two touchdowns.

The ‘Who Else but Gronk’ Award

For the Gronkiest Gronk moment

When the defense was struggling, who did they call for help? Gronk, obviously. Rob Gronkowski soared with the seagulls to break up Deshaun Watson’s Hail Mary in the end zone to close out a wild victory against the Texans.

The Dodgeball Award

“Bold strategy, Cotton. Let’s see if it pays off.”

Bill Belichick’s decision to trade Jimmy Garoppolo was shocking, and no one will know for quite some time if it was the right call. In the short term, Tom Brady will need to stay healthy despite already being banged up and barreling toward a career-high 42 sacks. In the long term, if Brady does indeed continue to play at a high level — or just close to it — for another five years, it really won’t matter what Garoppolo turns into with the 49ers. It won’t look like such a great move if Brady goes down this season and Brian Hoyer can’t keep the playoff seeding intact, or if Brady only plays for another couple years and Garoppolo turns into a star. But again, there’s no way to forecast any of that right now and Garoppolo wasn’t going to sign an extension to be a backup, regardless of the money involved.

Runaway Bus Award

For the most speed

Wide receiver Brandin Cooks is the fastest weapon at Tom Brady’s disposal since Randy Moss, and the speedster has paid dividends with 33 catches for a team-high 563 yards and three touchdowns, including the nifty game-winner against the Texans. Cooks has a chance to set a career high in receiving yards, and his 17.1 yards per catch is on pace for the best mark of his career and leads the NFL among players with at least 30 catches. To think, he should be even better in the coming months.

The Henry Rowengartner Award

For the Rookie of the Year

Defensive end Deatrich Wise has been a godsend for a defensive edge that lost Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long to free agency, Rob Ninkovich to retirement, Derek Rivers to a torn ACL, Shea McClellin to an injury and Kony Ealy to misguided expectations. Wise is third on the Pats with three sacks, plus second to Flowers with 10 quarterback hits and seven pressures. He also has a run stuff, batted pass and drawn penalty. Something to monitor, though: Wise’s playing time skyrocketed the past three weeks and his production dipped, so it’s vital to keep him as fresh as possible.

The Big Turkey Award

For the unit that needs to improve by Thanksgiving

Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia said he, his line and Bill Belichick aren’t happy with the group’s performance this season, which should be obvious considering the beating Tom Brady has taken. It’s even more shocking because they’ve got the same group as the successful unit from 2016. Nate Solder, who is clearly dealing with some personal challenges, allowed four sacks in the first three games but hasn’t surrendered one since then. Marcus Cannon got rolled up during the first series of the season and has allowed 6.5 sacks, which is already more than all of last year. Solder has been playing better, and maybe Cannon will benefit from some extra rest. If the tackles turn it around, it’ll make life easier for everyone.

The Buddy the Elf Award

For the guys who need to be at their best by Christmas

Cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore have been inconsistent. The Patriots have gotten by without them at their best, but the bottom line is they need to get there in time for the playoffs to solidify an improved defense. Gilmore had his best performance while apparently playing through a concussion against the Buccaneers, so he was trending in the right direction before his three-game absence. Butler has allowed five touchdowns this season, one more than he yielded in 19 games in 2016, and the last three games have been a microcosm of his season. He has been largely brilliant, but he has given up a touchdown in each outing — no one would blame him for the Julio Jones catch. Butler just has to shake off that one bad play per game.

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