Friday, November 03, 2017

Patriots' D at midpoint: Trey Flowers' value to unit has never been higher

The Patriots will need Trey Flowers to be productive and stay healthy in the second half. AP Photo/Steven Senne

By Mike Reiss
November 3, 2017

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When looking at the New England Patriots’ defense at the midpoint of the season, and using playing-time statistics as a prism to do so, one thought jumps to the forefront: Where would the Patriots be without defensive end Trey Flowers?

The 2015 fourth-round draft choice has led the way at arguably the thinnest position on the roster,
and his continued health will be critical for the team in the second half of the season.

Patriots followers could always count on the edge being set with Mike Vrabel and Rob Ninkovich, but that hasn’t been a guarantee this year. It’s why the potential return of the retired Ninkovich has been speculated in media circles, especially after third-round draft choice Derek Rivers tore his ACL in the preseason, linebacker/end Dont’a Hightower tore his pectoral muscle Oct. 22, and trade acquisition Kony Ealy didn’t pan out.

The Patriots’ dangerously thin personnel at end leads off the midpoint snap-count analysis for the D:


Trey Flowers: 91.1

Deatrich Wise Jr.: 51.4
Cassius Marsh: 50.1

Wise has been Patriots’ most productive rookie, with his primary competition coming from undrafted defensive tackle Adam Butler. His work against veteran tackle Russell Okung in Sunday’s win over the Chargers highlighted how his long arms and developing pass-rush repertoire can give even experienced blockers some problems. He looks like a keeper. Meanwhile, Marsh’s best fit appears to be as a nickel rusher. When asked to hold the edge on early downs, there have been some struggles.

Lawrence Guy: 55.4
Malcom Brown: 52.7
Adam Butler: 39.5
Alan Branch: 28.7

Brown, the 2015 first-round pick, has notably improved from last season while Branch was a healthy scratch in Tampa Bay on Oct. 5 but has rebounded to contribute in what is essentially a three-man rotation with Guy and Brown. Butler is learning on the job and appears to have a promising future.

Kyle Van Noy: 95.8
Dont’a Hightower: 44.8
Elandon Roberts: 41.8
David Harris: 8.9
Marquis Flowers: 6.0
Harvey Langi: 1.1
Trevor Reilly: 0.6

Van Noy’s emergence as a signal-caller and every-down player wasn’t projected coming into the season, but Hightower’s injuries (knee, then pectoral) played a part in it unfolding that way. Van Noy’s versatility to sometimes line up at the end of the line of scrimmage puts him in position to fill some of what Hightower did on D. Roberts is a disruptive run-blitzer and hard-hitter, while Harris is finally starting to see the field more; after playing just seven snaps in the first six games, he was on for 19 and 21 each of the last weeks.

Malcolm Butler: 96.2
Stephon Gilmore: 61.8
Johnson Bademosi: 34.8
Jonathan Jones: 32.7
Eric Rowe: 17.0

The play of Gilmore and Rowe early in the season wasn’t up to projected expectations, which led to some rocky moments. With Rowe missing the past four games (groin) and Gilmore the past three (concussion), it has helped build more depth and Bademosi has stepped in and played well, while Jones has twice been lauded by Bill Belichick for his knack for finishing plays. For those who say availability is as important as ability, what’s not to love about Butler? These are his playing-time stats each of the past three years: 98.8, 96.7 and 96.2. The latter number would be even higher if he wasn’t used as the No. 3 option against the Saints on Sept. 17.

Devin McCourty: 99.8
Patrick Chung: 83.0
Duron Harmon: 81.9
Jordan Richards: 24.0
Rob Gronkowski: 0.2

It’s hard to imagine there is another team in the NFL with three safeties who have all topped 80-percent playing time, which reflects what Belichick sometimes says: The Patriots run their big nickel (3 safety package) as much as any team in the NFL. Chung’s versatility to cover tight ends and receivers in the slot is an impressive aspect of his skill set. That’s not a typo: Gronkowski lands in this category after playing one snap, defending a late Hail Mary attempt from Deshaun Watson.

Popular Posts