Patriots

Patriots ‘other corner’ Ryan helps limit Jets’ Marshall

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Patriots ‘other corner’ Ryan helps limit Jets’ Marshall

FOXBORO - Youth over age. The promise of ascending players over those that are descending, albeit from a high level. Cost control over big dollars and over guaranteed dollars. Those were topic starters and conversations the Patriots player personnel department had with its boss this offseason, And by boss, I mean Bill Belichick. Duh.

In choosing Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and a bunch of free agents, the Pats chose to make the future the present and live with the consequences.

At 6-0, Belichick's team is the beast of the AFC East, again. So, exactly what consequences did the Pats suffer from those decisions to walk away from Darelle Revis and Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington (and Alfonzo Dennard, but that's a story not worth telling)? On the surface, zero. Zip. Zilch. But if you're actually paying attention, you know it's very much a work in progress. Injuries and poor performance have left the Pats rolling out Justin Coleman and some dude named Rashaan Melvin as their third and fourth corners. Recipe for success? Maybe, if you're the other team.

As for Butler, he was given the task of following Eric Decker for nearly the entire afternoon. It wasn't pretty, especially through the Jets second touchdown drive. Decker kept reeling in third-down pass plays, to keep the drive going and the clock running. But Butler kept at it, remained competitive, and when asked by our own Tom Curran if he was experiencing a loss of confidence, said, “No no no no no no no no no no no no.” Or something awfully close (I paraphrased because I was too lazy to cross check the quote). Butler seems to have the head and the confidence for this challenge.

“[Receivers] are going to catch balls," noted Butler. "It doesn’t matter who you are. You’re going to get a ball caught on you. But you try your best to limit them and not give up a catch almost every play. Some of those games come, but like I said before, I thought I played well, held them off long enough, and got the ‘W.’ That’s all that matters.”

As for the No. 2 corner, Logan Ryan, he helped to limit the beastly Brandon Marshall to a relatively quiet day by Marshall's standards. That Ryan had consistent safety help should not diminish what the ex-Rutgers standout did, or better yet, is doing. Ryan had interceptions in the previous two games and quarterbacks have found that they're better off attacking the top corner, Butler, than the "other" guy.

“You know, it’s a position that’s always pressured," said Ryan after the game. "You don’t want to make the wrong step. A lot can go wrong, a lot can go right as well, so it’s just a pressure position. It’s the NFL, so it’s a competitive league. It’s not going to be perfect, but you just want to finish with more points than they have.”

The Pats did, and Ryan played an important role. I asked him if he drew any satisfaction in preventing Marshall from doing to him as he's done to nearly every other corner this season.

“Yeah man, he’s a huge competitor and I had to match his energy level and just try my best with that guy," he replied. "I knew he’s not going to get completely shut down or anything like that. He’s too good. He’s too big..."

“He’s a guy who wants to ball. Good or bad play, he wants to ball again like any great competitor would, so I knew to keep bringing it because after the first quarter, after the second quarter, he’s going to keep wanting the ball. He’s going to demand the ball and they’re going to find a way to get that guy the ball. That’s why he’s been having those games – that 100-yard streak he’s been having – so he’s definitely a big part of their offense, so I knew the ball would be coming my way.”

But not very often and not very successfully. Marshall was upset following the game, yelling at a teammate as he exited the field, then accepting blame in the locker room. Ryan and company frustrated him. That's a win for the new No. 2 corner and, if he holds up, maybe for the decision-makers who chose young and cheap, and potentially ascending, players over older, and infinitely more expensive, ones. But only time will tell, and by that, I mean the months of January and - if all goes well - February.

QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?

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QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?

3:00 Why has Bill Belichick been so surprisingly positive of his team’s performance in tight wins?

6:30 Phil Perry breaks down what grades he gave the Patriots on his report card following the win over the Jets

15:00 Reaction to the Austin-Seferian Jenkins overturned touchdown, and what changes need to be made in the NFL replay system. 

23:00 Why was Patriots offensive line much more effective against Jets?

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

25:00 Patriots-Falcons preview, how did Falcons blow a 17 point lead to the Dolphins?

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

FOXBORO - We’re not quite at the point of fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, or 40 years of darkness, or even dogs and cats living together, but this Patriots season isn’t headed down the right path, despite a 4-2 record and the top spot in the AFC East. 

There are several elements that appear missing at this juncture - chief among them a defense that actually has a clue. Please don’t celebrate holding the Jets to 17 points - I’m looking at you, Dont’a Hightower. Josh McCown threw for just 194 yards against the Cleveland freakin’ Browns for goodness sake, but he got you for 354 and two scores?! Even the 2009 Patriots defense is offended by that.

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We’d be foolish to think the Pats can’t get this leaky unit fixed for reasons so obvious I won’t state them in this space so as not to waste my time or yours. We also know - long before Bill Belichick’s 6 1/2-minute explanation on the Monday conference call - that it's not supposed to be perfect right now. Actually, it’ll never be perfect. That’s not how this game works. 

Yet week after week, we see uncommon breakdowns and one defender looking at the next as if to say, “I thought you had him?” or more to the point, “what the hell were you doing?” It started Sunday at MetLife on the third play of the game. Malcolm Butler, playing 10 yards off Robby Anderson, looking as if he’s never played the position before, inexplicably turning his back on Anderson even though the wide receiver makes no real move to the post. That results in just about the easiest completion of McCown’s life, a 23-yarder on third-and-10. 

On the same series, on another third-and-long, the Pats rushed four and dropped seven into coverage. Defensive end Cassius Marsh continued his season-long trend of rushing so far upfield he ended up in Hoboken. With Deatrich Wise ridden outside on the opposite edge, McCown wisely stepped up and found prime real estate with New York City views. He wanted to throw and could have when the Pats fouled up a crossing route from the backside of the play. But with that much room to roam, McCown took off, scooting for a quick 16 yards and another first down.

Fittingly, that drive ended with a Jets touchdown on yet another dumb play, this one courtesy of Mr. Hit or Miss, Elandon Roberts. Channeling his inner Brandon Spikes, the second-year pro blew off his key and responsibility on third-and-goal from the 1, charging hard to the line. This, despite one of the most feeble play-action fakes you’ll see. In fact, I’m not even sure it was a real play-action fake. Anyway, score it as a touchdown to Austin Seferian-Jenkins and an indictment on David Harris, who apparently can’t vault past the erratic Roberts on the depth chart.

Similar to the week prior in Tampa, the Pats found better footing after that. They forced three straight three-and-outs in the second quarter and then helped turn the game when Butler intercepted an ill-advised throw by McCown just prior to the half. They got another turnover to start the third, with Butler coming off the edge on fourth-and-1 and forcing McCown into panic mode. The veteran QB fired an off-target throw to - get this - a wide open receiver who went uncovered on a drag route and Devin McCourty was gifted an interception.

But this group frowns on prosperity. It took a little-seen rule to prevent a Seferian-Jenkins touchdown in the fourth, and on the game’s final drive, the Pats allowed a 32-yard completion on fourth-and-12. Then, on what turned out to be the Jets final play, the Pats let Tavaris Cadet leak out of the backfield and run unchecked 20 yards down the field. Had McCown not soiled himself again, Gang Green would have had a first down and at least one crack at the end zone. Then, who knows what the heck happens?

It was just a season ago that the Patriots led the entire NFL in scoring defense. If you’ll recall, we spent a better part of the year wondering if that defense was championship quality. Turns out they were. Right now, we’re wondering once again if this defense is of that ilk, but through an entirely different prism. It’s on the players and staff to change the current outlook, or those cats and dogs will have to figure out their shared space.