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Pats’ struggles in dime defense made Malcolm Butler’s absence more conspicuous

The Patriots may have known Malcolm Butler was not starting, but that still doesn't answer why he didn't play at all.

More than two weeks after Super Bowl LII, the game’s biggest mystery still hasn’t been solved. It may never be.

Cornerback Malcolm Butler dressed for the game, but he contributed to only one play, on special teams. He took no snaps on defense.

Safety Devin McCourty has said that the team knew Butler wasn’t “starting.” The real question is whether McCourty or anyone else knew Butler wouldn’t be playing.

Whatever the reason for Butler being available to play but not playing, his absence became more and more conspicuous because the defense struggled to stop the Philadelphia passing game.

Mike Reiss of points out that the Patriots struggled in dime defense during the first two quarters, allowing the Eagles to complete six of nine passes for 135 yards, and also surrendering a 26-yard run. On third down, the Eagles completed six of eight passes against the dime defense during the first half.

During a 30-minute halftime, the Patriots decided (per Reiss) to yank safety Jordan Richards from the dime defense, putting not Malcolm Butler but Johnson Bademosi in his place.

Butler played 98 percent of the defensive snaps in the regular season. None in the Super Bowl, where the decision to replace Richards with Bademosi in the dime defense means that the Patriots didn’t regard Butler as being among the seven best defensive backs for Super Bowl Sunday.

Given that coach Bill Belichick never has much to say about pretty much anything, chances are that we’ll never know the whole truth about why Butler received one of the 46 game-day roster spots (at the expense of guys like Kenny Britt and Alan Branch) but didn’t receive a single chance to play defense.