So what's up with Ras-I Dowling?
If I remember correctly, he looked great in training camp, had a very solid preseason, and played very well in the season opener against the Tennessee Titans. Since then, he has lost significant time to Sterling Moore to the point where Dowling is only on the field for a handful of snaps every game. What gives?
There's no point in asking Bill Belichick about it; the only thing you'll get from him is some version of "we put the players out there that give this team the best chance to win. Sometimes it's Sterling, sometimes it's Ras-I. Whatever is best for this team." You can try to decipher a Belichick press conference if you want to, but that's something I gave up on a long time ago. All we can really do at this point is guess as to why Moore has been seeing more time in sub packages than Dowling has; I really wish that Dowling was on past injury reports, but his name hasn't shown up. Considering that Tommy B has been nursing a right shoulder injury for 10 years now and New England will list you as questionable if you so much as have a case of bad gas, we can't point to injury as the reason we haven't been seeing so much of the cornerback that the coaching staff was clearly very high on.
So what could it be? Why is Moore starting over the player that the Patriots used one of the most valuable picks of the entire 2011 Draft on? While we'll probably never know for sure, we can at least hazard a few guesses.
Sterling Moore is better in this particular defensive scheme. For most of the season so far, the Patriots have operated out of a 4-3 and Nickel Zone defense that gives the cornerbacks safety help over the top. And while safety play has been spotty at times, for the most part there haven't been any complete meltdowns on defense (the Donald Jones TD catch and run one of the exceptions). In a zone scheme, Moore may be better suited to drop into coverage, rely on his safeties, and funnel receivers into the middle of the field. If the Patriots ever choose to shift more into a press man coverage where the corners look to bump receivers at the line and throw off their timing, Dowling's size and strength will be better suited for that kind of scheme. With some bigger, stronger receivers coming up, starting this week with Demaryius Thomas, we could see Dowling back in the lineup in order to control the line of scrimmage and disrupt Peyton Manning's timing. if Moore and Dowling swap out based on zone vs. man schemes, it could actually make the defense really effective.
Dowling has been benched for disciplinary reasons. If Dowling was a bad boy and is riding the pine as a result, we'll never know it. But there's a chance that something went on behind closed doors and Dowling has seen his playing time reduced because of it. It has happened in the past, and we all know that it doesn't matter how good a player you are or how important you are to the team, if you step out of line you're going to get benched.
Moore is simply the better option. I really hope that this one isn't true, as it would make Dowling one of the bigger busts of the Belichick Era. The Dowling pick could easily have been parlayed into a 2012 1st rounder and a 2011 3rd or 4th rounder, so for a player with that kind of expectation to lose out to a career practice squad guy who only started for New England last season because they were completely decimated in the secondary would be a real shame. I actually think that Moore has turned into a decent corner for this team, but we didn't draft Dowling so early so he could be a backup. I'd hate to think that he simply lost his job after a fairly strong start.