After the bye week, there will changes to the defense, especially at the linebacker level. However, the team will also be looking at the secondary and seeing what match-ups they should game plan for. The team has 4 CBs they trust on the field in Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, Logan Ryan, and Justin Coleman. Cyrus Jones might eventually get himself out of the doghouse, but since he lost his punt return job he has very little use on the field.
Looking at the top 4 CBs on the roster and how I rank them in terms of importance down the stretch.
1. Malcolm Butler:
Strength: Speed, athleticism, instincts
Weakness: Lack of size
Butler is a very talented CB that can run with any WR in the league and has very fluid hips that allow him to mirror receivers. He can hold his own against some of the best receivers in the league such as Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, Butler is on the smaller end of the spectrum at his position measuring in at 5’10” 190. Players like Brandon Marshall who have size and know how to use it will give him fits although I’ve seen cut-ups of him being able to guard Alshon Jeffery as a rookie. Moving forward, he best projects to cover Emmanuel Sanders, Jeremy Maclin, Antonio Brown, Doug Baldwin, and Will Fuller.
2. Eric Rowe:
Strength: Size, speed
Weakness: Lack of experience
Rowe is a converted free safety with an ideal combination size and athleticism for the position. This is only his third year on the job, so his instincts aren’t as fine-tuned as most players at his position. However, the size and athleticism aren’t coachable which is why he was a Day 2 pick instead of a Day 3 pick. Rowe can handle taller receivers that give the other CBs trouble on the boundary. Rowe is very good at defending vertical routes along the boundary, although would struggle against a technician like Antonio Brown or a quick-twitch guy like Julian Edelman. Rowe is best suited to cover guys like AJ Green, Brandon Marshall, DeVante Parker, and Demaryius Thomas.
3. Logan Ryan:
Strength: Instincts, physicality
Weakness: Lack of size, Crecovery speed
Ryan is a very good CB in the right scheme. Ryan is the best counter towards technician types that lack exceptional speed or size. Ryan is the one CB that’s most reliant on safety help since there are more 1-on-1 matchups that work against him. 2015 showed that he can be a reliable player in the right scheme, but perhaps this year he’s more of a situational #2 and split time with Rowe depending on the opponent. The types of receivers that Ryan is best suited for are DeAndre Hopkins, Bennie Fowler, Steve Smith Sr., and Jermaine Kearse.
4. Justin Coleman:
Strength: Speed, athleticism
Weakness: Lack of experience, limited scheme fit
Justin Coleman is a player with ideal measurables and enough size where it’s not a liability. Against vertical straight-line threats, Coleman can handle them but can be beat by the technicians in the game. Coleman has been mainly a slot guy in his early tenure although he’s gotten some snaps on the boundary late in games after the Patriots wrap things up. The Patriots probably don’t need Coleman every week given that safeties Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty can double up as a nickel CB in a pinch. Coleman is best suited to handle John Brown, Tyler Lockett, and T.Y. Hilton.
These four CBs are part of the team’s game plan as long as all four are healthy, which I can’t guarantee will be the case for the rest of the season. Depending on specific match-ups and injuries, some players might get more than others.
Top 3 CBs by match-up:
- Seattle: Butler, Ryan, Coleman. Butler vs. Baldwin, Ryan vs. Kearse, Coleman vs. Lockett
- 49ers: Butler, Ryan, Coleman. Butler vs. Smith, Ryan vs. Patton, Coleman vs. Kerley (Cyrus Jones might be a better matchup against Kerley)
- Jets: Butler, Rowe, Ryan. Butler vs. Enunwa, Rowe vs. Marshall, Ryan vs. Peake
- Rams: Butler, Rowe, Coleman. Butler vs. Quick, Rowe vs. Britt, Coleman vs. Austin, might be playing sides of the field and not matchups.
- Ravens: Butler, Rowe, Ryan. Butler vs. Wallace, Rowe vs. Aiken, Ryan vs. Smith Sr.
- Broncos: Butler, Rowe, Ryan. Butler vs. Sanders, Rowe vs. Thomas, Ryan vs. Fowler
- Dolphins: Butler, Rowe, Ryan. Butler vs. Stills, Rowe vs. Parker, Ryan vs. Landry
Butler is the top CB on the roster and that’s undisputed. Fortunately, he’s complemented well by Rowe, who’s strength complements Butler’s weakness. The only two games where Rowe isn’t in the game plan is Seattle and San Francisco, whose WR corps is laughable and lacks speed on the boundary. The Rams might have the most favorable WR vs. CB matchup of this group since Quick and Britt are both fast and big, which could mean a game of just playing one side of the field and not tracking a specific receiver. The matchups could change if there is an injury to the roster. The Patriots have been very blessed with injury luck so far this year.