The Patriots will roll Malcolm Butler out as their starting left cornerback against the Steelers, although the question is whether he plays sides or actually shadows an opponent's top receiver. Part 1 highlights Butler's performance when targeted by Aaron Rodgers in the preseason opener. In the third preseason game, Butler primarily played on the left side only. Keep in mind that Carolina lacks a #1 receiver because of Kelvin Benjamin's ACL tear this preseason, so the need to play matchups is unnecessary.
In this game Butler faced Corey Brown and Ted Ginn. Neither guy is a proven top receiver, but you can only evaluate based on what you see and who plays. So if Butler is a #1 CB, he'd easily be able to shut down the Panthers receivers. Butler allowed 0 completions in the game, although the last incompletion was a dropped pass that should have gone for a touchdown. In addition, Butler picked up an illegal contact penalty that negated a James Morris sack in the 2nd quarter.
Vs. Carolina Panthers 0-4
Butler disrupts the timing of the play by jamming Ted Ginn 3.5 yards past LOS. https://t.co/o234ciW3Us— Michael McDermott (@michaelmcd8393) September 8, 2015
Here you see Butler against Ginn in press man coverage. Butler is able to get a jam on Ginn 3 1/2 yards past the line of scrimmage and slow down the release. Ginn is unable to shake free from Butler until the ball had been already thrown. The disruption of the timing causes Newton to airmail the pass to the sideline. It's something we saw a lot last year with Revis and Browner as the top corners and Butler showed he can be physical too.
Butler able to strip Ginn of the ball at the catch point. https://t.co/lKfH0roQhZ— Michael McDermott (@michaelmcd8393) September 8, 2015
This is a very similar route to the one where Butler got burned by Davante Adams against Green Bay. This is where experience comes into play for Butler, who is right on top of the receiver instead of giving him a cushion. Butler is able to mirror Ginn step for step on the slant route and in position to strip the ball over the top of the receiver at the catch point. Butler is able to get his left arm around Ginn's shoulder without hooking the receiver and then clamp down and knock the ball out of Ginn's left arm.
Butler defending the comeback route. Right on top of the receiver, although Brown fell down on the route. https://t.co/Y5qiRXYo8Y— Michael McDermott (@michaelmcd8393) September 8, 2015
With the way Butler had played so far, the Panthers went to a comeback route to try to create separation from the 2nd year CB. Butler starts with a 7-yard cushion on Brown at the snap. As Brown starts eating up the cushion, Butler turns his body to face the sideline while keeping his eyes on the receiver. When Brown attempts to break back towards the ball on the comeback route, his feet slip on the turf and takes a seat. Realizing the play is broken, Butler looked up to find the football which was thrown to the spot Brown needed to be. I'm not sure how the play would have gone had Brown not slipped on the route, but with Butler right on top of the receiver as he attempted to change direction, I have to imagine Butler jumps the route for a Pick 6.
Illegal Contact foul on Butler. https://t.co/9igjkAGQQ3— Michael McDermott (@michaelmcd8393) September 8, 2015
The receiver was running an out-go route. This wasn't the case of Butler getting burned by a double move because the receiver didn't make one, it was rather Butler jumped what he thought was an out route. Butler is playing the out route as Brown turns up field for the out-go and the two players run into each other. Realizing his mistake, Butler proceeds to instead hit the receiver instead of trying to recover on the go. If Butler opts to try to recover, it's very possible that the play would have been a long completion instead of a 5-yard penalty that ultimately was negated by an offensive holding foul. In hindsight, you can argue that was a dumb move because of the holding foul. Given that Butler is 10 yards away from the line of scrimmage, he probably can't see that there's a flag and for all he knows the play is still ongoing. The mistake here is not the illegal contact, the mistake is overplaying the out route and not being in position to defend the go.
Butler allows Brown to get behind him, is nearly burned for a touchdown. https://t.co/40fAiKxQOV— Michael McDermott (@michaelmcd8393) September 8, 2015
The final play I wanted to show I can't really give a quality Vine for everyone to see because of broadcasting angles and the lack of an All-22 angle until the regular season. Butler is lined up against Brown on the outside, who runs a stutter-go route. Butler makes the mistake of overplaying his receiver's feet and stops his feet, which allows Brown to gain a step on him. With McCourty playing the middle of the field in a Single-High safety position, there's an opportunity for Newton to take a shot at the end zone. Butler tries his best to catch up, but remains one stride behind Brown. That's enough space for an NFL QB to complete a pass and with the safety late getting over, that should be an easy touchdown if Newton is able to hit Brown over the top. The throw is perfect and hits Brown in-stride, but the pass was dropped. Butler got lucky there, but that's not a mistake you want to repeat again. Against Antonio Brown, that's an easy touchdown.
When comparing the Green Bay and Carolina games, Butler shows the ability to mirror receivers on the route and able to stay within an arm's length of the receiver. When the ball gets to the catch point, Butler is in position to make a play on the ball or make a play on the receiver. Butler plays with confidence and isn't afraid to get physical against the receivers he's covering. Even though this film session is only a small sample of what Butler has done this year, the conclusion is that he has the ability to be a #1 corner in the NFL. It's not a question of if, not when. The Patriots will face Antonio Brown and Sammy Watkins in the first two weeks, so we may find out if Butler is indeed a #1 CB sooner rather than later. For most of the elite CBs, it took 2-3 seasons before they broke out and established themselves as one of the league's best. Butler is primed for a break out in Year 2 and a successful season adds another chapter to his story of perseverance.