New England Patriots: Malcolm Butler Playing at High Level


When the New England Patriots let Darrelle Revis go this past off season, many figured their defense as a whole was in big trouble. On top of losing Revis, the Patriots also let cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington hit the road, causing the team to lose their top three corners from a Super Bowl championship squad.

We all have confidence in Bill Belichick’s ability to make it all work, but losing that many key players at an important position like cornerback rarely turns out great for a team. Well, the Patriots have had a number of players step up and take their place, and actually seem to be in decent shape at cornerback. Sure, they aren’t as good as last season at the position, but it far from the dumpster fire it looked like it would be.

Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler is a huge reason for the Patriots success at the position this season. Between Butler, Logan Ryan and Justin Coleman, the Patriots have found a mix of players who have been getting them by with some success. Butler and Coleman are both undrafted players with extremely limited experience, and Ryan is a former third-round pick who struggled through his first two seasons.

The Patriots are getting by with this lack of experience and proven talent by putting their players in a position to succeed, and Butler is the key to it all.

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Butler is an aggressive player with great ball skills and impressive athleticism. He proved his worth on that play late in the Super Bowl, and the Patriots decided to give him an opportunity to prove himself this season.

While he has not been perfect, Butler has been good for the Patriots. On opening night against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Antonio Brown roughed him up for nine receptions, 133 yards and a touchdown. But after that, Butler performed extremely well against the likes of Sammy Watkins, Allen Robinson, Terrance Williams and Donte Moncrief. These guys may not be on the same level as Brown, but they are supremely talented NFL wide receivers.

The Patriots feel confident in lining up Butler against one of the premier receivers on the other side, and with very little help. Heading into the game, the Patriots decide who Butler is going to defend, and they trust him to shut that guy down. The corner on the other side (primarily Ryan) gets much more of the help from the safeties.

Against the Colts, Butler took care of Moncrief, while the combination of Ryan and the safeties took care of T.Y. Hilton. Against the Jaguars, Butler took care of Robinson, while Ryan and safety help took care of Allen Hurns. This strategy has not worked to perfection, but Butler is holding his own enough for the Patriots to give help on the other side.

On Sunday against the New York Jets, Butler was lined up most of the game against Eric Decker, while Ryan and the safeties double-covered Brandon Marshall. Decker was able to beat Butler deep a few times, and finished with an impressive stat-line of six receptions for 94 yards.

Decker was a weapon for Ryan Fitzpatrick in the passing game, but his immediate stat-line does not tell the entire story. Decker was targeted 12 times on the afternoon. So, Butler held him to receptions on only half of his targets. Not bad when considering he was not getting any help.

I am not saying that Butler shut him down, or anything like that. In fact, Fitzpatrick tried to pick on him throughout the game, but Butler did not let Decker take over the game. Holding him to six receptions for 94 yards on 12 receptions isn’t exactly Revis-caliber, but it is good enough to get the job done.

Oct 25, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall (15) is tackled by New England Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan (26) and free safety Devin McCourty (32) during the third quarter at Gillette Stadium. The New England Patriots won 30-23. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Considering the Patriots were able to hold Marshall to a season-low four receptions for 67 yards, and star running back Chris Ivory to a season-low 41 rushing yards on 17 carries (2.4 YPC average), I would say the defense did their job. Having Butler matched one-on-one with Decker, and keeping him from single-handily destroying them, allowed the Patriots to focus on their top two weapons in Marshall and Ivory. That was the recipe for success in the 30-23 victory.

Butler does not have to be Revis, Aqib Talib or Ty Law. The Patriots just need him to be good enough to put alone against one of the better receivers on the other side, and not give up huge chunks of yardage with regularity.

He is still a young and extremely inexperienced player, there will be mistakes and times where Butler is exploited by strong passing attacks. That being said, he has the skills and is showing the shut-down mentality to be great. Belichick is grooming Butler to be a legitimate shut-down option on the outside.

He is not there yet, but it may just be a matter of time.

Next: Pats Back on Top of NFL Power Rankings

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