2018 Patriots positional snapshot: DE Trey Flowers led linemen, but can they get him to return in 2019?

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(Adam Richins/Boston Sports Journal)

With the Patriots’ 2018 season done, we’re going to take a look back at the team by position, and provide a few thoughts as to what they might need at that spot moving forward. So far, we’ve put the offense under the microscope, as well as the special teamers. Our defensive snapshots kick off with the defensive line.

2018 depth chart: Defensive ends Trey Flowers (57 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 9 tackles for loss), Deatrich Wise (30 tackles, 4.5 sacks), Adrian Clayborn (11 tackles, 2.5 sacks), John Simon (17 tackles, 2 sacks), Derek Rivers (2 tackles, 1 sack), Keionta Davis (6 tackles); defensive tackles Lawrence Guy (59 tackles, 1 sack), Danny Shelton (21 tackles), Malcom Brown (39 tackles), Adam Butler (17 tackles, 3 sacks), Ufomba Kamalu (1 tackle).

Contract status: Flowers (free agent), Wise (signed through 2020), Clayborn (signed through 2019), Simon (free agent), Rivers (signed through 2020), Davis (signed through 2019), Guy (signed through 2020), Shelton (free agent), Brown (free agent), Butler (signed through 2019), Kamalu (signed through 2020).

Overview: There were times where this group was really good, like down the stretch and into the postseason. There were also times where they really struggled. I know you take the first four games of any New England season with a grain of salt, but they were dominated in September in Detroit. (Part of that was because there was no Flowers in that one, but you understand what I’m saying.) There was also an alarming run in early December where New England couldn’t stop a stiff breeze, let alone a consistent rushing attack — you have to put all stats in some sort of context, but from mid-November through mid-December, the Patriots allowed an average of 133 rushing yards per game. It’s debatable how much of that was personnel (Shelton was in and out of the lineup) and how much was poor complementary football, but it was ugly for the defensive line through this stretch.

But that all changed in the playoffs — again, stats in context and all that — but the D-line deserves a sizable amount of credit for yielding just 40.6 rushing yards per game in the playoffs against teams that featured Melvin Gordon, Tyreek Hill and Todd Gurley II in the backfield. That’s good. The Patriots also did a really good job getting home when it came to pressure. This wasn’t all the defensive line, but their 10 playoff sacks were nearly a franchise record for most sacks in a postseason. (Only three other New England teams had more in their respective playoff runs.)

[caption id="attachment_441465" align="alignnone" width="1600"] The underappreciated Guy had a terrific season. (Adam Richins for BSJ)[/caption]

Flowers has evolved into such a perfect fit for what the Patriots want to do defensively. Agile and quick enough to rush the passer from the edge and strong and stout enough to play the run if he’s over a guard, his versatility, smarts and overwhelming physical prowess (one scout I spoke with called him “country strong”) make him a near-perfect defensive lineman for New England. Paired with the criminally underrated Guy, and that’s a really talented duo. There will be movement around them, but if you can figure out a way to get them slotted into place for the next few years, you have the starting point for a terrific defensive front.

By the numbers: 1.8 - The difference in the yards per carry allowed for the Patriots when it came to the regular season (4.9 yards per carry, 29th in the league) and the postseason (3.1 yards per carry, best of any AFC playoff team that played a minimum of two postseason games).

A few thoughts about the position moving forward: