Patriots Cornerbacks Have Locked Down Receivers Since Week 10 Loss

by Doug Kyed on Wed, Dec 28, 2016 at 9:00AM

It likely wasn’t a complete coincidence New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler had his best game of the season just four days after he was snubbed for the 2017 Pro Bowl.

Butler hauled in two interceptions, recovered a fumble and didn’t allow a reception Saturday in the Patriots’ 41-3 win over the New York Jets. It was his most productive game of the season, but it certainly didn’t come out of nowhere.

The Patriots’ pass defense, and their secondary in particular, has turned a corner since the team’s Week 10 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Malcolm Butler primarily has played on the left side with Logan Ryan in the slot and Eric Rowe on the right side, save for one game in which he was out with a hamstring injury.

Here’s how the Patriots’ starting cornerbacks have fared in coverage over the past five weeks.

Week 16 vs. New York Jets
Eric Rowe: one catch on five targets, 17 yards, interception, pass breakup
Logan Ryan: 0-2, PBU
Malcolm Butler: 0-1, two INTs

Week 15 vs. Denver Broncos
Rowe: 3-6, 35 yards, PBU
Butler: 1-3, 21 yards
Ryan: 2-4, 14 yard, INT

Week 14 vs. Baltimore Ravens
Ryan: 4-9, 52 yards
Butler: 3-5, 33 yards, PBU

Week 13 vs. Los Angeles Rams
Butler: 3-7, 78 yards, interception, two PBUs
Ryan: 3-4, 34 yards
Rowe: 1-2, 6 yards

Week 12 vs. New York Jets
Butler: 6-6, 106 yards, two TDs
Rowe: 2-5, 32 yards, PBU
Ryan: 4-6, 30 yards, two PBUs

Week 11 vs. San Francisco 49ers
Butler: 2-5, 35 yards
Rowe: 1-5, 7 yards
Ryan: 0-5, two PBUs, holding penalty

Here’s how Rowe, Ryan and Butler have fared combined over the past five weeks.

Rowe: 8-23, 97 yards, INT, three PBUs, 30.5 passer rating
Ryan: 13-30, 130 yards, INT, five PBUs, 42.4 passer rating
Butler: 15-27, 273 yards, two TDs, three INTs, 75.6 passer rating

Eight games into his second season, Rowe is looking like a steal for the Patriots. They’ll gladly give up a third-round pick if the 2015 second-round pick continues to play at this level.

Ryan has turned his season around in his new role and could receive a big contract as a free agent this offseason. He was one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL last season, and though he started a little slow in 2016 hehas been shutting down receivers from the slot.

Butler had his worst game of the season in Week 12 against the Jets but only allowed one big play in Week 13 and has proven to be one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks since.

Here’s how Patriots defenders have fared in coverage this season.

Rowe provides a smaller sample size but has been the Patriots’ best cornerback this season. Butler allows bigger plays but also gets his hands on the football on over 20 percent of targets. Ryan only is allowing 6.4 yards per pass attempt. Jonathan Jones, an undrafted free agent, has come on recently as the Patriots’ No. 4 cornerback option. He’s been better than second-round pick Cyrus Jones.

The Patriots’ secondary is in good shape as the Patriots move toward the postseason. Safeties Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon are having strong seasons, and Dont’a Hightower should return soon to help some of the Patriots’ coverage issues at linebacker.

The Patriots’ defensive improvements have come from all three levels, but their cornerbacks have helped solidify previous inconsistency in coverage.

Thumbnail photo via Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports Images