Patriots

Pats lining things up on defense

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Pats lining things up on defense

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com Celtics Insider
Follow @sherrodbcsn
FOXBORO The New England Patriots continue to stockpile defensive linemen, which isn't unusual this time of year.

But these defensive linemen aren't your garden variety, hope-to-make-the-53-man-roster types.

They can play.

They can play well.

And they can make an immediate impact, which is exactly what the Patriots are looking for from a pair of recently signed defensive ends, Andre Carter (6-foot-4, 255) and Shaun Ellis (6-5, 290).

While the albatross of expectations isn't necessarily draped across the massive shoulders of Carter and Ellis, there's little doubt both are expected to contribute.

"Any player we bring on to the team, we feel can help our team," said Pats coach Bill Belichick.

Of the two, look for Ellis to be more productive.

"Shaun's played a lot of good football against us," Belichick said of Ellis, who spent the past 11 seasons with the Pats' nemesis, the New York Jets. "Very durable player, and very consistent. It seems like every time we play them, he lines up there and we have a hard time with him."

Drafted by the Jets with the 12th overall pick in 2000 out of Tennessee, Ellis has been a mainstay in the Jets' attacking 3-4 scheme. In 170 career regular-season games, he has started 156 times while racking up 552 tackles, 72.5 sacks, 13 forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries.

His play earned him a pair (2003, 2009) of Pro Bowl berths.

While Carter's impact is a bit more uncertain, the 10-year veteran - 5 years in San Francisco and the last 5 in Washington - has been a starter for the bulk of his career.

In 149 career games, he has started 133 times with a total of 517 tackles, 66 sacks, 30 passes defended, 15 forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. Drafted by the San Francisco 49ers with the seventh overall pick in 2001, Carter has had three double-digit sack seasons which included a career-high 12.5 during the 2002 season with the 49ers.

Having coached his father, Rubin, Belichick is very familiar with the player - as well as the person.

"Andre Carter's a player I spent a lot of time with prior to him coming out of the draft," said Belichick, who coached Rubin Carter while an assistant coach with the Denver Broncos in 1978. "He's a high quality individual, very professional, works hard."

And that hard work will be put to the test early and often now that he's part of a New England team that has a bevy of defensive linemen.

"That's just competition," Belichick said. "We're always looking for competition."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

When the Patriots signed Stephon Gilmore in the offseason and then managed to keep Malcolm Butler around, the consensus was not only might this be the best 1-2 punch at cornerback the team has ever had, but maybe, just maybe, it was the best duo in the NFL this season. 

Newsflash: it hasn’t been. Not even close. 

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The latest example comes from Sunday night in Denver. Gilmore returned from a three-game absence (concussion) to play well against Demaryius Thomas in that 41-16 win. The same can’t be said of Butler. He spent much of his day playing man-to-man versus Emmanuel Sanders and struggled mightily.

Butler’s issues started on the very first play. He got lost along the sidelines and surrendered a 31-yard catch. Butler initially had Sanders blanketed. The two were lined up outside the numbers along the left sideline. Based on the formation, and the alignment of safety Devin McCourty, it was pretty clear Butler was alone on an island. Sanders initially drove inside before straightening out his route. Then he cut sharply, working speedily to the flat. Butler had a good beat on the play but unwisely peeked into the backfield. That’s when Sanders turned up and found nothing but green grass.

“I would just say I’d just tip my hat to him,” said Butler. “It was a great route. He steered me in. Then he went up then went out then went back up so I thought that was it. It was a little more than I expected. You gotta learn from it and play it better next time.”

On the same drive, he was beaten again by Sanders, this time for 13 yards. The Pats defense tightened up and held Denver to a field goal but a pattern had already been established between the Patriots' 27-year-old cornerback and Sanders.

The next big play Butler coughed up came with 4:13 to play in the second quarter. Broncos QB Brock Osweiler summoned Sanders to come across the formation via motion but then sent him back as the wideout approached the tackle box. Butler overreacted, trying to jump out ahead of the motion while simultaneously looking into the backfield. It was then he realized Sanders had done an about-face. To his credit, Butler recovered and jumped on Sanders shortly after the snap of the ball, actually shoving the receivers’ right shoulder in an attempt to disrupt the pattern. 

As Sanders turned upfield, he appeared well-covered by Butler. But then another old habit that’s been hard for Butler to break appeared. He lost track of the ball once it took flight. Sanders slapped on the brakes and high-pointed the football while Butler watched, helplessly flat-footed. Chalk up another 23-yard gain.

“I would just say he underthrew it and I got pushed by,” said Butler. “I probably burst because I was expected the ball to come too. You just got to play it the best way you can. Things happen. He just made a great play. I was in good position but not good enough.”

Sanders caught one more pass on the drive, and should have had a touchdown in the second quarter, streaking past Butler toward the end zone. But Osweiler made a terrible throw, unable to even keep it in the field of play. Hence another field goal instead of a touchdown. Bullet dodged - and there were a few.

“You can’t win with three all day,” said Butler of the defense’s red-zone efficiency. “They’re very hard on us on protecting the red area and not giving up touchdowns in the red area. Bend but don’t break. That’s been the motto.”

The Patriots would break later and Sanders beating Butler was a part of it. The play coming about five minutes into the third quarter on Denver's only TD-scoring drive. The Broncos came out in trips, employing a bunch formation that had plagued the Patriots so often the first month of the season. Unlike then, the Pats handled communication perfectly and as Sanders worked toward the seam, Butler had good position and help toward the post, with safety Duron Harmon eyeballing Sanders the entire way. So did Butler do? He gave up outside leverage, with Sanders breaking hard to the flag. Butler’s footwork was a mess - he got spun around like he was auditioning for "Dancing With the Stars" - and was unable to recover until Sanders had picked up another 23 yards.

“Another good route,” said Butler. “He got me thinking inside and broke out. He’s a good player. A great receiver.”

There’s no denying Sanders’ talent, but Butler has got to be better and more consistent. He’s too often been lost in coverage or gotten caught gambling, eyeballing a big play that’s rarely come in 2017. With their issues up front, it’s the Pats secondary that’s going to have to lead the way. The corners have only occasionally played to the level expected of them. The clock is ticking. Thanksgiving is right around the corner and if you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: this is when the Patriots want to be playing their best football. About time Butler answered the call.