New England Patriots EDGE Trey Flowers stepped into the starting line-up halfway through the 2016 season. He ascended from 3rd on the depth chart to 1st over the course of his dominant sophomore season and ultimately capped of the year with a 2.5 sack, 1 tackle for loss, and 2 quarterback hit performance in Super Bowl LI.
Flowers is still a relatively unknown commodity, but he’s primed to make a statement to the league in 2017 as one of the best up-and-coming pass rushers in the NFL.
“Trey Flowers is one of the better players in the League,” Patriots DT Alan Branch said after the Super Bowl. “He’s definitely going to have a lot of people paying attention to him next year because that guy’s a monster. I think he’s one of the better pass rushers and one of the better all-around defensive linemen in the League. I give him all of the credit in the world. To me, he’s one of the best.”
The most notable play by Flowers came late in the fourth quarter with the Atlanta Falcons in field goal position and looking for a single point to pick up a two-score lead.
Q4 2-11-NE 23 (3:56) (Shotgun) M.Ryan sacked at NE 35 for -12 yards (T.Flowers).
The 266-pound Flowers lined up in between the right tackle and right guard in what is considered the 3-technique, mirroring the placement of 320-pound DT Malcom Brown on the opposite side. DT Alan Branch is the nose tackle at the 0-technique alignment.
Flowers undercuts Branch to split the guard and center, while Branch stunts behind Flowers to occupy the guard and tackle. Flowers drives All Pro C Alex Mack back into the lap of All Pro QB Matt Ryan for a 12-yard sack.
The Falcons had been in position for a 40-yard field goal prior to the play, but were knocked back to the fringe of K Matt Bryant’s range at 52-yards. A subsequent holding penalty drawn by EDGE Chris Long ended any Falcons chance at a score and the Patriots held on to their one-score deficit.
“Huge,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said about Flowers’ sack. “That was a huge defensive stop....We got the holding penalty and we were able to push them back out of field goal range, so that was a huge defensive series for us.”
“It was a good play call,” Flowers said. “I just went inside on the guard and just kept getting vertical. We knew he always likes to attack the spot and he [Ryan] likes to step up in the pocket, so anytime you get some inside penetration, he was right there to get the sack. I was just blessed I had the opportunity to make the play when the time came.”
While the play call was great and Flowers executed it perfectly, Branch relayed how Flowers stepped up into a leadership role in crunch time.
“We got the play called,” Branch explained. “We had a stunt on that. Someone was supposed to stunt on that play. Trey stepped up. He was like, ‘Look, let me do the stunt.’ He went in there. I just went in there and covered him and let him do work.”
“I honestly don’t think it mattered if Trey wanted it [to stunt] or not, because we were going to give it to him,” defensive captain LB Dont’a Hightower added after the game. “Trey is honestly one of the best players on defense, he does a hell of a job each and every day. Works hard, he’s great at his craft. There’s been plenty of times throughout the year, where he’s had double-team, triple-team guys and he’s gotten sacks. To be honest we expected it and I’m glad to have him as my teammate as good as Trey is.”
Flowers earned the trust of his teammates as he delivered on the field every time his number was called. He might not be the flashiest pass rusher, but he uses his long arms to create leverage against bigger offensive linemen and to get into the backfield to create big stops.
What’s even more impressive about Flowers is his ability to generate a highlight play from any place on the defensive line.
Flowers lines up in a wide-9 formation opposite the left tackle to give himself a more direct path to QB Matt Ryan. Flowers beats the left tackle easily with his inside arm warding off the contact and his outside arm beating the tackle’s arms. Flowers slings Ryan to the ground and almost forces a fumble-6.
Flowers is lined up outside the left tackle again, but is closer to the line of scrimmage to help defend against the run. No Falcons blocker engages Flowers (were they trying to have a wide receiver crack block Flowers?) and he is able to knife into the backfield to tackle the ball carrier.
Flowers shades on the inside shoulder of the tackle (offensive right side on the top image, offensive left side on the bottom image) in what could also be considered 3 technique in the bottom image.
Flowers uses a spin move to get away from the double team in the first play and lays a hit on Ryan. The Falcons ultimately completed the play, but Flowers forced Ryan off his mark.
On the second play, Flowers uses his inside arm to ward off the right guard in a potential stretch run, before ultimately swimming back to tackle the running back at the line of scrimmage. Additional kudos for LB Elandon Roberts for reading the run play perfectly and eliminating the cutback lane.
Flowers lines up across from the center on a passing down and holds the point against a double team. A crashing Hightower occupies Mack and allows Flowers to have a one-on-one with the Falcons left guard, where Flowers uses his length and height to rip down and away from the block, before crashing the pocket and bringing Ryan to the ground.
The Patriots play Flowers everywhere on the defensive line because he’s a mismatch at each position. Despite standing at 6’2, Flowers possesses arm length more similar to a player at 6’5 so he can both engage with offensive tackles and use his height to get under their blocks. Flowers is also stout enough to hold his own against interior linemen in the run game, despite his weight, and uses his length to ward off the blockers.
Flowers continued to improve as the season wore on after sitting out his rookie year. In a conversation with NESN’s Doug Kyed, Kyed noted that Flowers appeared to make the sophomore jump in the middle of the season. There’s a real chance that Flowers could return in his third season and experience an even larger increase in production.
“Last year I didn’t play a lot, but I saw the other side of it,” Flowers said after the Super Bowl. “Being able to sit out and just the opportunity seeming to fade away, it could have. But I just kept playing and whenever my opportunity came, I made the best of my opportunity and I just made sure I was prepared.”
Flowers picked the biggest stage to introduce himself to the rest of the league and there’s no question that when Flowers receives even more opportunities in 2017 that he’ll find a way to deliver.