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Reporters' Notebook

Trey Flowers' impact; Bears' swagger; Deshaun Watson's growth

As the 2018 NFL season rolls on into Week 13,'s network of reporters collects the hottest news and notes from across the league, including:

-- Why the Bears' defense is feeling itself.

-- Deshaun Watson's growth as a quarterback.

-- The Rams' knack for traveling well.

But first, Mike Giardi examines the impact of a defensive dynamo who can fly under the radar ...

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers is nicknamed the "Quiet Storm" by teammates and coaches.

"You don't hear much from him, but he's been a warrior for us," says de facto defensive coordinator Brian Flores.

The nickname makes Flowers smile. But he has plenty of reasons to do that this year. The analytical crowd has fallen in love with him. Hell, everyone has fallen in love with him.

Prior to the Patriots' and Bears' Week 7 matchup, Chicago coach Matt Nagy said of Flowers, "He's not the 'big-name guy,' but he's the big-name guy among the coaching world."

Former Patriot player and current Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel also gushed before the Titans' game with New England in Week 10: "Oh, man -- I loved Trey even when I went to work him out at Arkansas ... he's just a really good player."

Flowers, normally very self-critical, tends to agree that his performance in 2018 has been worthy of praise.

"I feel as though I've been playing pretty good," he said in his understated way, adding, "but I know I can be better."

Flowers' stats pale in comparison to those of some of the other big-name defensive ends, like J.J. Watt or Cameron Jordan -- Flowers has just 3.5 sacks and 38 tackles -- but his impact on the Patriots' success has been immeasurable.

"He's a beast," said linebacker Kyle Van Noy.

"Trey is as good a defensive end as there is in the league," offered another Patriots defensive end (and fellow Arkansas Razorback), Deatrich Wise. "He belongs in the same conversation with those players everyone talks about."

"He just works at it. He's always working," said respected veteran Adrian Clayborn.

In this system, Flowers will probably never be a double-digit sack guy or have his name and face plastered on billboards. That's just fine for the fourth-year pro, whose absence for much of the Jacksonville game in Week 2 and the following week against Detroit -- both New England losses -- was glaring.

"Yeah, you just gotta understand this is a team sport," he told me. "I'm not into all the stats, the sacks. Here, it's just all about the team. As long as we're winning, I'll do whatever it takes. If I gotta jam a tight end and it takes away from my rush -- if that's what helps us win -- that's what I'm gonna do. I'm not trying to run upfield and get my stats up. That's just what it is. I'm happy."

Flowers will be a free agent this coming offseason. Despite being a perfect Patriot, the "Quiet Storm" may soon blow out of town. But he won't allow himself to focus on that. Instead, he has one job.

"I'm just playing ball," Flowers said. "I don't have to say much. I'm just focused on beating the guy in front of me."


NFL: Scoring continues to define the 2018 season. With just one month to go in the regular season, the pace of scoring has not slowed down from its torrid start -- to the surprise of nobody who saw the Rams' epic victory over the Chiefs 11 days ago. Still, with bad weather moving into parts of the country, scoring is likely to be impacted. Maybe.

Through Week 12, 8,502 points have been scored, the most through Week 12 in NFL history. In addition, the 980 touchdowns scored are the most through Week 12, and the 625 touchdown passes are also the most through Week 12.

That means teams are averaging 24.2 points per game. If that average holds through the end of the season, it will be the first time the scoring average sits above 24 points for a season. The previous high was 23.4 in 2013; the only other time the average was above 23 points was in 1946.

All that scoring does not mean more blowouts, though. So far, 51 games have been decided by three points or fewer, tied for the most in history through Week 12.

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CHICAGO BEARS: High-flying defense fueling confidence despite Trubisky's status. The 8-3 Chicago Bears are in first place in the NFC North, marking the first time since 2013 that they've led the division entering Week 13. Backup quarterback Chase Danielis in line to start in place of Mitchell Trubisky (who is dealing with a shoulder injury) for the second straight week when the Bearstake on the Giants in East Rutherford, New Jersey -- but there is no concern in the Bears' locker room.

Daniel was solid in Chicago's Thanksgiving Day win in Detroit, despite taking little to no full-speed reps on a short week. Daniel went 27-of-37 for 230 yards with two touchdowns, zero picks and a stout passer rating of 106.8. Daniel -- who spent several years in coach Matt Nagy's offensive scheme previously in the NFL -- actually got better as the game wore on.

Another big reason for Chicago's success has been its opportunistic defense, which ranks fourth overall but leads the NFL with 29 takeaways. The Bears have also given up the fewest big plays in the NFL. What's more compelling: As a team, they've scored 104 points off of turnovers, which also leads the NFL.

Chicago's defense has actually returned five interceptions for touchdowns, which is the most by any team through 11 games since 2012. One of the men responsible, safety Eddie Jackson, was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Month for November after back-to-back games with pick-sixes. Remarkably, the second-year pro's five career defensive touchdowns are the most in the NFL since 2015.

Jackson told me that his success is the result of "the chemistry that I have with my teammates.

"We do a great job in the back end, disguising -- just coming out, trying to make plays -- trying to get the ball in your hands and score a touchdown."

Jackson also told me how much fun the entire defensive unit is having.

"It's exciting. It's really exciting," Jackson said. "And right now, I think the biggest thing to contribute to our success is that we're having fun. Coach Nagy keeps preaching to us, play with swagger and just being yourself, and right now, everyone's loving it, we are loving it -- like, I mean, loving it."

A view of the fearsome pass rush -- from the other side. One of the reasons that the back end of Chicago's defense is seeing so many opportunities is the dynamic and powerful rush on the front end. Just ask the opponent. Giants starting left tackle Nate Solder talked to me this week about facing the Bears' defensive front and the challenges it presents:

"They rush with a lot of guys -- everyone that comes in is very successful getting at the quarterback and stopping the run; there's a lot of challenges. They'll bring five or six guys. ... We rely on what the coaches have game-planned, we rely on our techniques and our fundamentals, and really just know that it's gonna be a challenge, and it's gonna take everything we got to pull it off."

And it's not just one guy getting all the sacks. Sure, OLB Khalil Mack jumps off the page with eight sacks. But the defensive line has provided its fair share: Akiem Hicks has four, Roy Robertson-Harris has 2.5, Bilal Nichols has 1.5 and Eddie Goldman has one. From the linebacker group (in addition to Mack), Roquan Smith has four, Aaron Lynch has three, Danny Trevathan has two and Leonard Floyd has one.

"I think that's why stats can be deceiving sometimes," said Solder. "Because it's not necessarily the teams that have one player with a bunch of sacks, but it's when you have a few sacks across the board that gives you a lot of problems. They work off of each other ... have different stunts in games, and blitzes and things that really make it difficult. They don't just line up four and straight rush every time."

Eli Manning and the rest of the Giants' 20th-ranked total offense will no doubt have their hands full Sunday afternoon. New York has given up 38 sacks this season, which was tied for the second-worst mark in the NFL heading into Week 13.

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HOUSTON TEXANS: Watson making strides at QB.Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson has been playing a noticeably different style of football lately, one that is working well for a team that has won eight straight games. Instead of operating as a dynamic playmaker slinging the football all over the field, he's thriving as a game manager who wins with efficiency.

"He really takes a lot of pride in being a field general," said Texans head coach Bill O'Brien. "Our offense is really based on the fact that he is the offensive coordinator on the field. It's very difficult to call a 'locked' play in this day and age. You don't really know what you're going to see. During the week, you try to narrow it down and say, 'On this play, Deshaun, it's either this or this, and then you have to get us into the right play.' That usually happens about 90 percent of the time, and he does an awesome job of that."

Reid stepping up in Year 1.Justin Reid may not receive any votes for Defensive Rookie of the Year. But he has, without a doubt, fulfilled that role for the Houston Texans. The safety from Stanford (and the younger brother of Panthers safety Eric Reid) has been delivering consistent production all season. Reid leads the team with three interceptions, ranks third in passes defended and is fifth in tackles.

"The game is getting more and more fun, because now it's becoming a chess match, to where it's slow enough to where I can make the calls for our defense, but I can also look at the offensive formation and their tips and tells and start anticipating what they're about to do," he told me after Monday night's 34-17 win over the Titans, which, as the Texans' eighth straight victory, set a new franchise record.

Reid's been especially impactful the past few weeks. He led the team in tackles with 10 against Denver. He turned the tide against Washington with a 101-yard interception return for a touchdown. And he made his first tackle for loss this season against the Titans on Monday.

"First, I did my job, tracking the tight end, and then when I saw an opportunity -- shoot your shot, take it, take it, make a play," he said, about his key red-zone takedown of Marcus Mariota. The 5-yard loss on second down led to a fourth-down stop for the Texans' defense, after which Lamar Miller broke the game open with a 97-yard touchdown run, the longest in Texans history.

Early in the year, doing his job first, as he noted, earned him the respect and trust of his teammates in the secondary, Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson and Tyrann Mathieu -- who between them have a combined 28 years of experience. His playmaking ability has helped maintain that trust. And now?

"The biggest thing right now is to keep winning ... Keep climbing the ladder, keep getting better and keep letting good things happen."

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LOS ANGELES RAMS: No fear of travel troubles. The Rams' game Sunday at Detroit marks the first and only time this season they'll play in the Eastern time zone -- at least, until the playoffs and a potential trip to Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta. It's also their only game scheduled for a 10 a.m. Pacific kickoff.

That's always an adjustment for West Coast teams, but Rams coach Sean McVay said they learned from last year, when they did just fine out east, winning 27-17 at Jacksonville and blowing out the Giants 51-17 coming off their bye. They're again coming off their bye this week.

"Last year, we had to take six trips on Fridays, and I can't remember how many of those games were actually early kickoffs," McVay said. (Five of them were.) "But I think our guys do an excellent job, really where I'm leaning on (senior director of sports medicine and performance) Reggie (Scott) and (director of strength training and performance) Ted (Rath) as far as how can we get [players'] biological clocks up to speed, in terms of being able to adjust and adapt to being able to kick off earlier than what you're really ready for, being on the West Coast. We'll travel two days out in advance, and we've kind of got a rhythm that we're comfortable with [from] last year, and that's something that we'll continue to do this year."

Whatever they've done seems to have worked. The Rams actually have a better record on the road (11-2) than at home (10-5, including playoffs) in the McVay era, the only losses away from the Los Angeles Coliseum coming last season at Minnesota (another early kickoff) and Nov. 4 at New Orleans.

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