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Key Match-Up: Trey Flowers vs. Ben Ijalana

In this week 16 duel between the New England Patriots and the New York Jets, we will look at an important match-up. That is the one between defensive end Trey Flowers and offensive tackle Ben Ijalana.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

In week 16, the New York Jets (4-10) will travel to Gillette Stadium to face off against the New England Patriots (12-2) in an AFC East show-down. The Jets come into this game as heavy underdogs, with Bovada having them as 17 point underdogs for this weekend. Despite that and their lack-luster season, the Jets are still a team that has given the Patriots trouble in the past. That would include a 26-20 victory that the Jets had last season and the Patriots barely hanging on to win 22-17 last month.

New York does come into this match-up with a new quarterback, Bryce Petty, under center for them. And while he has struggled for the most part as a starter, it doesn’t necessarily compare to that of his offensive line. Nick Mangold was injured for a good portion of the season while Ryan Clady was forced to go on injured reserve earlier this season. Clady was playing as the Jets left tackle, a spot that is now occupied by Ben Ijalana. Unfortunately for Ijalana, he has not had a good 2016, according to Pro Football Focus. Among the 78 grade-eligible offensive tackles this season, he is ranked as the 60th best offensive tackle with a 46.2 grade (out of 100).

According to the Washington Post, Ijalana has given up six sacks in 14 games this season (11 of which he has started). Ijalana has struggled as the Jets starting blindside protector and will have his hands full this weekend when he has to protect Petty from emerging pass-rushing threat Trey Flowers. Flowers, who has come on the scene in the second half of the season, has seven sacks this year. What is even more impressive is that all seven of his sacks have come in the past seven games.

Flowers is one of the players who has stepped up for the Patriots as of late. Considering the team traded away Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins both in the matter of a year, Flowers has been able to soften the blow with his rushing prowess. Thanks to the terrific work by Inside The Pylon’s Jon Ledyard (@ledyardnfldraft), he looked closer into Flowers and the type of sacks he has put up this season:

As it shows, Cannon has three sacks from attacking the left side (left tackle or right tackle) or the center. But what is even more interesting is that Flowers has three sacks from attacking the interior offensive line. For a player of his experience, it is impressive to see Flowers be as much of a threat rushing from the interior as he is from the interior. That might be the biggest key for Ijalana in this match-up, keeping Flowers contained on the outside/edge to prevent him from rushing from the interior. Considering the Jets have a weak offensive line overall, this will be important in order to minimize Flowers’ disruption to the Jets passing game.

One of the better qualities about Flowers’ game besides his pass-rushing ability is how well he plays against the run. He has always been able to disrupt the flow of an opponents’ game because of his ability to beat his blocking assignments there. Flowers has the ability to sit back and watch how a run play develops and then be able to control his assignment to either clog the lane or slip past to make the stop. Considering Ijalana is one of the worst rated offensive tackles in run blocking according to PFF (65th, 46.3), this has the makings of being a difficult match-up for him and the Jets offensive line.

Ijalana will likely have to rely on James Carpenter’s help on double teams and probably quite often. Flowers has shown an ability to rush from inside while also quickly getting better at rushing from the outside. That means, on plays where Flowers is lined up in the “B” gap (in between the tackle and guard), we could see Carpenter working with Ijalana on blocking Flowers.

One of Flowers’ weaknesses when coming out of college was his burst off the snap. Flowers makes up for this with his high motor, allowing him to gain momentum even after the snap of the ball. Ijalana should likely focus on this and be quick with meeting Flowers. If he can make contact at the time of the snap, he could have better success at stopping Flowers in his tracks.

This is a mismatch on paper as Flowers is emerging as a dangerous all-around defensive end while Ijalana is a back-up swing tackle who has struggled in that role predictably. Considering one of Flowers’ strengths is against the run and the team will likely try to run the ball with Bilal Powell (Matt Forte is listed as doubtful for this game), Flowers could have more of an impact against the run as opposed to rushing the passer. Petty isn’t necessarily known for his pocket presence or his mobility in the pocket, which could work to the advantage of a pass-rusher like Flowers. His ability to rush the passer from any place on the field will also be a way of keeping Ijalana (and anyone else who will be assigned the duty of blocking him) on his toes and develop any type of strategy against him.

Overall, this match-up has the makings of being a disastrous one for the Jets as Flowers is averaging a sack per game over his last seven and their left tackle is a below-average second-stringer. That’s not to say this match-up is automatically won by Flowers, but Ijalana and the Jets will need to focus on different ways of stopping him to have any chance of winning this battle. It’ll be one to watch as third-string quarterback Petty could be in for a long day on Saturday.