Christmas comes early for Marquis Flowers, sack-happy Patriots

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FOXBORO -- Marquis Flowers thought he was gypped. Back in Week 12, he was in the Dolphins backfield with Trey Flowers, converging on quarterback Matt Moore for a sack. Yet when the official stats came down, the fourth-year linebacker was still sitting on a nice round zero for his career. Trey was the one who got full credit.

Four weeks later, Marquis filled that column and then some by recording 2.5 sacks to lead the Patriots defense as it stifled Tyrod Taylor and the Bills in a 37-16 victory.

PATRIOTS 37, BILLS 16

"They kind of played me when Miami was here and me and Trey sacked [Moore]," Flowers said with a smile. "I'm not going to let them live that down. That was really the first one. But I'm just happy we got the play."

Any time the Patriots have played Taylor, part of their plan has been to keep him in the pocket. He's more dangerous outside than in, the thinking has gone. But on Sunday, Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia added a layer of protection against Taylor's running ability by mirroring him with an athletic defender at the second level.

With Kyle Van Noy out for the third consecutive week, Marquis Flowers -- primarily a special teamer since arriving to the Patriots in a trade with the Bengals just before the start of the season -- was the choice to spy. 

Flowers' first sack came on a fourth-and-two play near the Patriots goal line when Taylor was chased from the pocket thanks to a tackle-end stunt run by the Flowers boys. Trey was freed up by Marquis' rush, and the pressure up the middle chased Taylor from the pocket. Marquis finally tracked down Taylor for the sack near the Patriots bench, which created a turnover on downs.

On his second sack, Flowers looked more like a true spy. Behind the Patriots front, he waited for Taylor to make his move late in the second quarter. As Taylor felt pressure from Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise on the edges, he broke for it, but Flowers was there to get him by his ankles. 

On his third, which he split with Wise, Marquis Flowers spied Taylor again. 

"That was one of the game plans," Trey Flowers said. "Just have somebody if [Taylor] does get out, being able to run him down, cut him off, and don't let him do too much damage. We had guys on the inside that were aggressive pushing him out, pushing the pocket on him. Once he got back there and was looking at the rush, then we could get off and make a play."

Belichick often talks about the complementary defense, and what the Patriots did against the Bills -- rushing Taylor and keeping the Buffalo offense out of the end zone for the entirety of the afternoon -- was a prime example. If players like Malcom Brown (one sack, one hurry) and Lawrence Guy (one hit, three hurries) could get a push up the middle, that would collapse the pocket. A collapsing pocket would help aggressive-yet-disciplined edge rushers because Taylor would become more of a stationary target. And if Taylor did somehow find a way to break free, someone like Marquis Flowers was waiting for him.

"Coaches trust in me," Marquis Flowers said. "When the coaches trust in you, obviously there's something you can do. Here they don't put you in position if they don't think you can do it. Coaches believe in me. Teammates trust in me, believe in me. So I believe. I want to help them. It's about trust and it's about going out there and executing what the coaches needed done."

Flowers played a career-high 55 snaps against the Bills, and according to Pro Football Focus, the athletic 6-foot-3, 250-pounder led the team with five total pressures. 

"We had a lot of fast players on the field to chase Taylor," Belichick said after the game. "I thought they did a pretty good job of containing him. He's a hard guy to handle. So is McCoy, but I thought some of our faster players, our overall team speed at times, was good enough to keep them from getting too far away from us."

The Patriots had 10 different players who created some kind of pressure, including safeties Patrick Chung (one hit) and Devin McCourty (one hurry) and corner Malcolm Butler (strip sack). Per PFF, Taylor was pressured on  a whopping 22 of his 46 dropbacks. 

"If one guy missed, we had another guy coming, just surrounding him as much as possible when he did try to escape the pocket," McCourty said. "So, that was just great because it was a total team effort. It wasn't like we had one guy to spy on him or something all game to stop him. It was just a group of guys just making sure."

"This week our goal was to close the pocket down. Crush the pocket. Keep him in the pocket," said Wise, who was in on a pair of sacks and noted that speed-to-power rushes were a critical component of the plan. 

"That was kind of our mindset going into the game. Then it started to unravel with the sacks. First sack, second sack, third sack, and it kind of got contagious . . . Everyone [said], 'This is working.' The sacks started coming and he started panicking."

And for Marquis Flowers, who waited longer than he thought he might for sack No. 1, that meant Christmas came a little early. 

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