Malcolm Butler’s struggles since leaving the New England Patriots have been well documented.
During his first eight games with the Tennessee Titans, the Super Bowl XLIX hero has allowed the most catches (39), receiving yards (618) and receiving touchdowns (seven) of any NFL cornerback, according to Pro Football Focus. He was torched on national television Monday night, surrendering eight catches on 11 targets for 108 yards and two scores in a 28-14 win over the Dallas Cowboys.
Last season was Butler’s worst as a Patriots starter, but he still was a serviceable cover man then, leading the team with 12 pass breakups, allowing fewer than 50 receiving yards in 12 games and playing nearly every defensive snap (until Super Bowl LII, of course).
So how did he go from that — an inconsistent but valuable part of an above-average secondary — to, statistically speaking at least, the worst starting cornerback in the NFL the very next year? The answer to that question, according to Titans head coach Mike Vrabel, is alarmingly simple.
“Well, there’s technique and detail that are associated with every player at his position,” Vrabel, whose team will host the Patriots this Sunday, said on a conference call with New England reporters. “And when you stray sometimes from those techniques and those details, sometimes you have a tendency to not do your job as well as you would if you had focused on the details and technique.”
“Do your job.” Butler undoubtedly heard those words thousands of times during his four seasons in New England.
Continuing on, Vrabel singled out Butler’s struggles in man coverage. He’s shown a tendency to glance back at the quarterback too early rather than keep his eyes trained on the receiver, which has made him susceptible to double moves like the one Allen Hurns used to beat him for a 23-yard touchdown Monday night.
“Like I’ve mentioned to him and everybody else, when you play man coverage, you have to stare at your man,” Vrabel said. “That’s the first place to start. Making sure your eyes are in the right place and you’re not looking back at the quarterback. So I have to do a better job of coaching it and explaining it and there will be improvement.”
There hasn’t been talk of benching Butler for backup LeShaun Sims, Vrabel said, and his poor play hasn’t been overly detrimental to the Titans’ defense, which has allowed the fewest points in the NFL this season. Still, this is nowhere close to what Tennessee expected when it handed Butler a five-year, $61 million contract in March, outbidding the Houston Texans and Chicago Bears for the 28-year-old’s services.
“I think that as a corner at any level, you have to always have confidence just to go out there and be able to keep playing,” Vrabel said. “No different than what he did the other night — there were some good football snaps there in the second half that really helped us win the game.
“There’s a lot of guys and a lot of coaches that are inconsistent in our organization right now, and that starts with me. We all have to be a little bit better at being consistent in our jobs and our preparation and making sure we’re trying to do those things play in and play out.”
Vrabel is right about Butler improving in the second half against Dallas. After allowing six catches on seven targets for 82 yards and two touchdowns in the first two quarters, he was beaten just twice on four targets for 30 yards after halftime.
The last of those targets came with less than two minutes remaining. Butler stuck with rookie wide receiver Michael Gallup on a fade into the end zone, forcing an incompletion on third-and-10 that helped prevent a Cowboys comeback.
“I think that when Malcolm does execute the technique and is consistent, it’s been pretty good,” Vrabel continued. “And then there’s times where that doesn’t happen. So my confidence is where his is. If it looks good and he continues to work, then I have confidence in him.
“I just want to make sure that he’s taking the coaching and using the techniques that can help him and help us.”
Butler will face another difficult task this Sunday against a Patriots team that knows his shortcomings and has the offensive talent (Tom Brady, Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, etc.) to exploit them.
For more grades, advanced statistics and more at Pro Football Focus, go to ProFootballFocus.com.
Thumbnail photo via Jim Brown/USA TODAY Sports Images