FOXBORO -- The Patriots have had a rotating group of corners filling in alongside Malcolm Butler this season, with the team seemingly looking to play the hot hand on a week-to-week basis.
In a Week 10 loss to the Seahawks, Eric Rowe was in the press box as one coach Bill Belichick's seven inactives. Last weekend against the Niners, Rowe was starting and Justin Coleman was the odd man out. Logan Ryan's playing time has fluctuated, but he appeared to gain some positive momentum with a sound performance against San Francisco's Jeremy Kerley.
Against the Jets, the hot hand at corner may not mean much. The size of the body attached to the hand? That could be critical.
Last season, against Jets receivers Brandon Marshall (6-foot-4) and Eric Decker (6-3), the Patriots allowed a combined 21 catches for 323 yards and three touchdowns in two games. Their size against the likes of Butler (5-10) and Ryan (5-11) paid dividends.
Decker is out for the season on injured reserve, but in his place the Jets have turned to Quincy Enunwa (6-2), who presents a similar size mismatch.
"The size of this group is – they’re big and they’re very I’d say unusually big," Belichick said. "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.
"Enunwa’s really had a strong season the whole way through and so it was really him and Decker and Marshall, and then [Robby] Andersen has come on [and] 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."
It remains to be seen how the Patriots will try to match up with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's bigger targets. Butler could take on their No. 1 in Marshall, but he typically sees smaller, shiftier wideouts. Ryan has often been tasked with more imposing targets. He saw his share of work against Marshall last season, with Butler taking Decker.
This year, the Patriots have added a corner with some length in Rowe (6-feet), who may be suited to check someone like Marshall if Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia want to go that route. Whoever sees Marshall, the Patriots in all likelihood will use either Devin McCourty or Duron Harmon over the top to protect against any big-play opportunities.
"You’ve got to try to go out and compete and use some of your strengths because both of those guys are big, they’re physical, they play to their size," McCourty said of Marshall and Enunwa. "Whether it’s in the running game when they’re blocking and trying to take advantage of smaller guys, or balls down the field that are kind of up for grabs, you’ve got to really try to get good position and use that position.
"For our guys, if you’ve got good quickness, use your quickness and use your different strengths trying to battle them for each ball that’s thrown to them."