NEW ORLEANS — The New England Patriots surprisingly shook up their secondary Sunday by starting Eric Rowe at cornerback over Malcolm Butler.
The move raised some eyebrows for multiple reasons, chief among them were the rumors that Butler could be traded over the offseason to the team the Patriots beat 36-20 in Week 2: the New Orleans Saints.
Bill Belichick wasn’t asked about the decision to start Rowe across from Stephon Gilmore and Butler declined to speak to the media after the game. But Rowe did offer an explanation as to why he started.
“It was just a switch we made at the beginning of the practice week,” Rowe said. “It could even go back the other way. I think it was just for me to get some reps on the outside.”
Rowe primarily played in the slot in Week 1. He also played in the slot when Butler was on the field in three-cornerback sets Sunday against the Saints. But it seems odd the Patriots would want to give Rowe outside reps in a regular-season game over a player who was named to a Pro Bowl in 2015 and All-Pro team in 2016.
The theory early in the game was that Rowe, who’s 6-foot-1, played over Butler, who’s 5-foot-11, because the Saints have two tall starting receivers in Michael Thomas and Brandon Coleman. That was debunked when Butler came in and primarily was covering Thomas and Coleman on the outside over Tommylee Lewis, who’s a shorter slot receiver.
Rowe said the switch didn’t create any tension in the Patriots’ locker room.
“I didn’t feel through the week or Malcolm didn’t feel like it was anything uncomfortable-wise,” Rowe said. “I was doing it last year with Logan Ryan too, so it really doesn’t make a difference.”
Rowe is a solid third cornerback who could start on many teams across the NFL. The Patriots’ decision to reduce Butler’s snaps was reminiscent of the team scaling back Jamie Collins’ workload prior to trading him during the 2016 season.
Rowe suffered a groin injury Sunday, which could change the Patriots’ plans, though he said he was fine after the game and it might need some rehab work. Patriots No. 4 cornerback Jonathan Jones recorded two pass breakups in the game.
Thumbnail photo via Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports Images
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