The meaning of the phrase “the more things change, the more they stay the same” fits the Patriots’ reunion with cornerback Malcolm Butler.
After a four-year absence from the organization and a one-year retirement, Butler returns to where it all began with a two-year contract worth a total of $9 million with New England.
Although the storylines surrounding his return primarily concern his benching by Bill Belichick in Super Bowl LII, the most pressing question for the current Pats is whether Butler can still play?
Since losing Pro Bowler JC Jackson to the Chargers in free agency, the Patriots are in dire need of corners. Their current depth chart is slot corner Jon Jones, Jalen Mills, Terrance Mitchell, Myles Bryant, Joejuan Williams, Shaun Wade and now Butler. Not really encouraging.
Plus, with six-time Pro Bowler Tyreek Hill joining the division and Davante Adams moving from the NFC to the AFC Raiders, New England’s schedule is filled with tough wide receiver matchups and passing attacks. powerful.
The hope is that Butler, 32, will be motivated and fresh after a year off to play at the rookie level in a defense he thrived in to start his NFL career.
(via Pro Football Focus)
In his final season in the NFL as a member of the Titans in 2020, Butler, for better and for worse, was eerily similar on film to the player he was for the Patriots in his final season in Nova Scotia. England.
After a thorough review of Butler’s 2020 streak, his competitiveness and covering instincts continued to shine like they did during his first stint with the Patriots from 2014-2017.
Here, Butler plays the deep third in a coverage pattern three from the side of the three receivers. The Colts are executing a New England concept, an outside hitch paired with an inside seam route, and Butler is making a great play on the ball. He knows the short-area defender falls in the passing window for hitch road as the flat area, so he puts his eyes inside number two. Number two runs a vertical seam pattern and Butler jumps the road for one of his five interceptions on the season.
In addition to the ball-peddling instincts of zone covers, Butler’s ability to stay glued to his man in a trail technique was ever-present on his tape.
In this play, Butler takes on Vikings star Justin Jefferson as the inside slot receiver (#3). Butler plays a running technique out of first coverage, which he’ll do a lot with the Pats, where he’ll stay on the receiver’s outside hip and play under the road. Butler uses his deep-midfield safety assist to protect himself up high, then plays receivers hands at the catch point if he’s targeted. Kirk Cousins tries to pass the ball to Jefferson and Butler makes a nice breaking dive pass.
Another staple of Butler’s game throughout his career is sticking to fast routes down the middle.
Butler matches Allen Robinson at the bottom of the screen above. Robinson uses a stretch version to simulate a fade route to open tilt. But Butler makes a quick transition from a soft press technique and gets in front of Robinson to break up the pass.
Much like his 2017 season with the Pats, Butler was capable of covering men running through the middle or driving on undershoots. Plus, he has a knack for finding the football in the coverage area.
However, the flaw in his game that consistently follows him over the years is that Butler struggles to make plays on the ball at the point of capture, losing his fair share of 50/50 plays on the field.
Granted, the Titans put him in tough matchups with elite playmakers like Jefferson, Robinson, Davante Adams, Marvin Jones and others.
Yet when Butler was tasked with playing man cover away against top-flight competition, he was often close enough to his man to attempt to play football. But he couldn’t finish from the catch point to get his hands on the ball, which led to big plays for the opposition.
The good news is that the Patriots will remember Butler’s strengths and weaknesses to keep him away from the ball winners on the field.
But the issues he has in contested situations result in big gains for opposing offenses, which the Patriots might need to live with from time to time if Butler becomes a regular contributor.
Although it is difficult to predict how a player will react after a year of absence, it can rejuvenate a player’s body and give him a second life in his career (cough, Gronk, cough).
The Patriots need a usable outside cornerback game as they seek younger players at the position to take over from JC Jackson.
Even if Butler doesn’t return to his old Pro Bowl form, the player the Titans got in the 2020 season would be a useful piece for Bill Belichick’s secondary.