The New England Patriots made the active decision to enter the 2016 season with a roster of short cornerbacks. CB Logan Ryan is the tallest at 5’11 1/8, followed by the 5’10 5/8 CB Justin Coleman, 5’9 7/8 CB Cyrus Jones, 5’9 6/8 CB Malcolm Butler, and 5’9 1/8 CB Jonathan Jones. The Patriots made a midseason acquisition of 6’0 6/8 CB Eric Rowe and he has joined the starting rotation alongside Butler and Ryan.
This was a small unit that struggled at times to defend bigger wide receivers like Dolphins WR DeVante Parker (106 yards), Bills WR Robert Woods (89 yards), Bengals WR A.J. Green (88 yards), and Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald (81 yards).
The New York Jets introduce a new challenge in week 12 because every receiver is gigantic.
“They’re big,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said about the Jets receivers, “and they’re very I’d say unusually big. We see big receivers throughout the course of the year. This team has a lot of them and so that certainly is a challenge to matchup against. They’re as big a group as we’ll see all year.”
The Jets rely on 6’4 1/2 WR Brandon Marshall and 6’2 WR Quincy Enunwa for the vast majority of the passing production. 6’3 1/8 WR Eric Decker is on the injured reserve after suffering a shoulder injury, opening the door for 6’2 7/8 rookie WR Robby Anderson to produce.
“Enunwa’s really had a strong season the whole way through and so it was really him and Decker and Marshall,” Belichick said, “and then Andersen has come on gotten more opportunity when Decker went out. So he’s really been the fourth guy who’s now the third guy. Enunwa and Brandon Marshall, I mean, they’re really borderline tight ends. They’re that kind of big, and strong and physical.
“I’d say Andersen’s more of a conventional-sized receiver. He’s not as big as those guys are but he’s fast, he’s very productive, very competitive. He’s been a very impressive guy to watch. I’d say that’s kind of what it looks like to me at that position.
“But Enunwa’s really been there from day one as their- whatever you want to call him- you can call him a tight end, you can call him a receiver. He’s a little bit of both but the combination is very- his size, his playing strength, his speed, his ability to run after the catch- he’s definitely a problem to cover and a problem when he gets the ball in his hands.”
The Jets don’t have a real receiving threat at tight end on the roster, so Marshall, Enunwa, and company find a way to use their size against smaller cornerbacks. Belichick believes that smaller cornerbacks can contribute so long as they have competitive ball skills. The Patriots cornerbacks have not been flashing competitive ball skills in 2016.
So far this season, Butler has been the only cornerback to attack the ball on a weekly basis. Ryan has historically drawn the match-up against Marshall, although Rowe might be more deserving at this point in the season. The lack of receiving tight end also opens up SS Patrick Chung and FS Devin McCourty as possible alternatives in the coverage game.
The Jets have been spreading the ball fairly evenly amongst Marshall, Enunwa, and Anderson in recent weeks and they are roughly 4 inches taller on average than the Patriots cornerbacks they will face on Sunday. Hopefully Belichick has an answer for this extremely unusual match-up.