By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Malcolm Butler is struggling mightily with the Tennessee Titans. That was pretty easy to predict. He didn’t play particularly well in 2017 and he was never a true shutdown corner, never a bona fide No. 1 who could wipe out any top receiver one-on-one. He always made up for a relative lack of physical tools with his competitiveness, which rightfully made him a hero in New England. It’s clear, now, that he probably wasn’t worth the five years and over $61 million he got from Tennessee, and Bill Belichick was right to move on from him in the long-term.
He still should’ve played in the Super Bowl.
There’s been a bit of goalpost-moving in the wake of Butler’s obvious regression with the Titans, and to be clear, he has definitely regressed. Pro Football Focus ranks him 98th out of 111 qualifying cornerbacks with a severely poor 51.9 grade.
Belichick couldn’t care less about that assessment. “Yeah, that means a lot to me,” he deadpanned during his Wednesday press conference when asked about Butler’s poor performance. He then said, for the third time, “They lead the league in defense.” Belichick predictably wasn’t going to touch anything specific on Butler, but his drop-off in Tennessee is evident to anyone watching.
Still, for whatever reason, Butler’s poor performance in 2018 has somehow seeped back into 2017, and now the scorcher of the week is that Belichick was not only right to move on from Butler after the season, but right to bench him for the entirety of Super Bowl LII.
Let’s not go overboard now.
You heard it on the Sports Hub on Tuesday, when Greg Bedard said as much on Felger & Mazz. The hosts were right to call him out on this assertion, considering Bedard said this back in February, just days after the Super Bowl:
“I could understand benching him for performance reasons for part of the game. Sitting him for the entire game when people are getting toasted on defense? I’m sorry, that just doesn’t add up, and it’s not a good enough explanation.”
Revisionist history. Recency bias. Whatever you want to call it, extending Butler’s struggles in 2018 back to the Super Bowl as some kind of retroactive check-mark for Belichick is just taking it too far.
One of Butler’s chief replacements in the Super Bowl, Johnson Bademosi, has played only seven defensive snaps for his new team, the Houston Texans. And he’s managed to have an even worse PFF rating than Butler (48.1) over those plays. Another player who had to come into the game thanks to Butler’s absence is Jordan Richards, who has compiled a 56.1 rating with the Falcons. That’s mostly due to his 70.1 run defense grade, which is far better than his 49.5 in coverage.
Belichick was right to sit Butler in favor of those guys? For the entire game?
If the coach wanted to send a message by benching him for the first series, or the first quarter, or the first half, fine. It went from an eyebrow-raising decision to a mind-boggler when Butler remained on the bench throughout the second half, as Nick Foles and the Eagles continued to shred the likes of Bademosi and Richards up and down the field.
Not going to get into that too much, because the game’s long over and it’s long been discussed ad nauseam. It’s just incredible that Butler’s performance as a Titan has now become a referendum on Belichick’s decision to play him for zero defensive snaps after he had played nearly 100 percent of snaps over the 18 previous games.
The Super Bowl decision backfired. It wasn’t the only reason the Patriots lost that game, but it was a bad decision. Butler’s regression in Tennessee doesn’t change that. And that regression was fairly predictable.
It’s just not an indication that the Super Bowl decision was suddenly the right move. That part of the commentary has gotten out of hand.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at email@example.com.