Let’s just get this out of the way first: New England Patriots fans should not cheer on the demise of Malcolm Butler. He made the game-saving play in one Patriots Super Bowl win and helped New England win another one.
He is and forever will be a Patriots legend.
That being said, the Patriots are looking smart for ultimately letting Butler walk in free agency this offseason.
The Patriots play the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, and it would be a good decision for them to attack Butler’s side of the field based on how his season has gone so far.
Butler hasn’t looked like a player worthy of a five-year, $61.25 million contract ( with $24 million guaranteed) during his first season in Nashville. He has allowed 39 catches on 54 targets for 618 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception through eight games this season, according to Pro Football Focus. Only one wide receiver, Antonio Brown, has more than seven touchdown catches this season.
Butler is also coming off a game in which he let up eight catches on 11 targets for 108 yards and two touchdowns against the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night. .Among qualified cornerbacks, Butler now ranks second to last in PFF’s cover snaps per reception metric, last in yards allowed, touchdowns allowed, yards per cover snap and cover snaps per target and 69th out of 72 cornerbacks in passer rating allowed (141.8).
So it’s not crazy, based on those metrics, to say Butler has been the worst starting cornerback in the NFL this season.
Another former Patriots cornerback, (the highly underrated) Logan Ryan, is having a much better year for the Titans, letting up 19 catches on 29 targets for 242 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions for a 102.9 passer rating allowed in more cover snaps.
For some more perspective, here are the Patriots’ cornerback cover stats:
Stephon Gilmore: 20-48, 233 yards, three touchdowns, one interception, 69.2 passer rating allowed
Jason McCourty: 29-51, 418 yards, one touchdown, 90.2 passer rating allowed
Jonathan Jones: 35-52, 396 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions, 93.1 passer rating allowed
Eric Rowe: 8-13, 106 yards, two touchdowns, 126.9 passer rating allowed
JC Jackson: 7-14, 119 yards, two interceptions, 39.6 passer rating allowed
Keion Crossen: 1-1, 16 yards, 118.8 passer rating allowed
Basically, anyone the Patriots can put on the field has been better than Butler this season.
And Butler, for one reason or another, really hasn’t been the player he once was since last preseason. Butler let up 60 catches on 102 targets for 814 yards with eight touchdowns and two interceptions last season, and his 102.3 passer rating allowed was the highest of his Patriots career. Last preseason, Butler allowed six catches on six targets for 91 yards with two touchdowns for a perfect 158.3 passer rating allowed.
And, to some degree, Butler’s 2018 season reignites the conversation of Butler’s Super Bowl LII benching. It’s tough to say Butler would have been worse than other cornerbacks the Patriots put on the field in that game, which the Patriots lost 41-33 to the Philadelphia Eagles. But he has been significantly worse than those players this season.
It was odd that Butler was active and didn’t play in the Super Bowl. We might never know what ultimately led to that benching. But performance, to some degree, must have played a part.
Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said Tuesday he doesn’t plan to bench Butler. But if this trend continues, no one would blame him from following Belichick’s lead.
For more grades, advanced statistics and more at Pro Football Focus, go to ProFootballFocus.com.