SBLII: What Did the Butler Do?

TheoShmeo

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SMU, that was the best explanation I have read yet about why Butler would not have been used. So clear that even guys like me who never played football can follow well. I now completely understand why Butler did not get into the game, and it makes me wonder what the Patriots are doing to address the talent gap up front. From what we have seen so far, other than drafting a project QB and an OT, would you guess the Pats will focus on pass rushers and linebackers in the draft?
Agreed, excellent explanation, and much appreciated. @SMU_Sox. I can't say that I'm as mollified as Streeter, but that DOES make a lot of sense. It will be interesting to see if Bill ever goes there. Or somewhere like there.

Then again, I remember reading the Sainted Joe Torre's book on the Yankees and his not so flattering take down of some of his ex-players, and thinking what a cad he was for doing that (even while the Yankee Hater in me enjoyed every bit of it). Something tells me BB might refrain from same. If he does, I'll have to be contented with explanations like the above, so thank you.
 

TheoShmeo

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BB was open and honest about Kyle Arrington 4 years ago so I guess we’ll see
You're correct and I remember being really surprised by that. I can't recall any other time when he was as candid/negative about one of his players or former players.

And in truth, the shots Torre took were more about off the field or personalty issues (guys like Kevin Brown and A-Rod) than they were performance based, and something like this, or Arrington's case, strikes me as different in kind.
 

lexrageorge

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Context matters here. ONE reason why I keep turning over the Butler decisions -- I know, to the irritation of some -- is that I think it MIGHT have some kind of residual affect. I did not write, nor do I even think, that it's even likely to have such an affect. But that this set of decisions (perhaps combined with other factors that have been bandied about) even could affect the future is enough for me to add it to a list of reasons why "In Bill I Trust" doesn't work for me.

We could debate/discuss whether it might impact the future over a beer. I don't see doing that further as advancing the ball much in this particular thread, and I do see your points.
 

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SMU_Sox

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From what we have seen so far, other than drafting a project QB and an OT, would you guess the Pats will focus on pass rushers and linebackers in the draft?
I think so. Look, this is one of the better years for off-ball linebackers, interior d-line depth, but short on pure edge rushers (although there are guys who should be available in rounds which they are worthy of being taken in like say Sam Hubbard - complete edge/LB not just rusher - in the back end of the first or early second or Duke Ejiofor in the 3rd).

Here are some names of off-ball linebackers Most of these guys are pure off-ball types but some have the potential to grow into a SAM. These guys vary in if they would be a better MLB or WLB but either way they are off-ball and I believe the Patriots need to address that position in this years draft. The free agent crop of LBs was lackluster. I'd do this projected by round but the truth is I only know the projected round for half of these guys. I can say that I have scouted them all myself but I also purchased the NDT and ITP draft guides which I would highly encourage you all to get. Kyle Crabbs 2018 one has released but still waiting on Joe's from NDT scouting and ITP's which will come soon. I scouted a ton of front 7 guys in anticipation of this years draft so when they select none I will feel very S-M-R-T.

You have your cream of the crop consensus: They are going top 10-15.
1) Roquan Smith
2) Tremaine Edmunds

Then there are the next two usually in this order: Evans might be available at 31.
3) Leighton Vander Esch
4) Rashaan Evans

Here are the other 11 names that have gotten at least some day 2 buzz in no order:
5) Darius Leonard (WLB)
6) Fred Warner
7) Shaun Dion Hamilton
8) Shaquem Griffin (WLB - hand amputated)
9) Jack Cichy
10) Skai Moore
11) Tegray Scales
12) Malik Jefferson
13) Jerome Baker
14) Genard Avery
15) Lorenzo Carter (He is an edge guy too)

So they have lots of options over the first 3 rounds to find their guy and I do think they should go in that direction. It's a deep class.

Defensive tackles with pass rush ability might not be there for the value when the Pats pick. If they go DT early I'd anticipate: Da'Ron Payne, Taven Bryan, or maybe Nathan Shepherd in the 2nd/3rd.

Edge rushers/defenders: Harold Landry is a trade-up candidate I imagine if he slips into the late teens or early 20s.
After Landry here are some edge guys who are projected on day 1 or 2: Josh Sweat, Arden Key, Marcus Davenport, Sam Hubbard, Duke Ejiofor. There are others but those are the ones off the top of my head and, again, not the best group in terms of overall quantity, top end talent is thin too. If I had to guess I would say Hubbard is the most Patriots like player of the group. He is a 3-down player and can rush the passer and set the edge and defend the run. I think he has the highest floor of the non Chubb-Landrys. He is never going to be a premiere pass rusher but he's a guy who can play fundamentally well, is above average athletically and can get you consistent good reps and 6-9 sacks a year (as well as other pressure).
 

PaulinMyrBch

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I'm curious as to Skai Moore and his medicals. Dude had neck fusion surgery and I know some folks connected to USC football that were surprised he was cleared to play at all last year. But I see him on draft board projections and it will be interesting to see if teams are going to treat him differently than the draft pundits.
 

Reverend

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Hey Theo, mind if I take a crack at an explanation?

I think there are two primary reasons for Butler's benching. 1) Butler's limitations as a player and his availability in the two weeks up to the Super Bowl and 2) the challenges the Eagles offense presented and how Andy Reid style offenses have been torching the Patriots for a few years now. That (2) unique challenge is crucial contextual information.

Let's start with 2 and the Eagles offense:

Masco, SuperNomario, and others have explained how Andy Reid offenses have given the Patriots trouble over the past few years. I won't rehash all the details but in particular the Patriots struggled stopping the run against 11 personnel all year. They gave up about 6 yards per run. The Eagles were one of the best teams running the ball out of 11 personnel. In the Super Bowl the Eagles were in 11 personnel 43/72 plays. They ran 70% of the time out of 11 personnel and, to some degree, the Pats strategy of playing 3 safeties helped limit their gains (from 6 yards to 5.4 which is still bad). The Eagles excellent skill position players spread out would prove to give the Patriots fits via both the run and the pass. Why did the Patriots play with 3 or 4 safeties?

Going into the game we knew the front 5/6/7's deficiencies were going to put pressure on the secondary. The Patriots front 7 was mediocre and not particularly athletic by the time of the Super Bowl due to injuries and roster choices/trade-offs and that was especially noticeable with the linebackers. Their defensive line did not do well against the run (look at the talent gap between Pats front 4 and Eagles O-line) and did not generate much pass pressure. Their linebackers are not the most athletic in coverage. Worse, guys like Roberts bite on everything. Foles was 5-5 for 77 yards against Patriot linebackers. Going against an RPO and 11 personnel heavy team, where you are already at a disadvantage talent vs talent, you need linebackers who can defend against the pass and the run especially when you are not going to get much of a pass rush, AND your front 4 is, again, at a talent disadvantage. The Patriots did not have linebackers that could do that so they tried the next best thing.

Belichick responded to the linebacking problem by playing big nickel packages and using 3-4 safeties. DMC, Chung, Richards, Harmon lined up and played traditional LB roles at some points in the game. They also made the decision to have Chung cover the slot or Agholor. That added a traditionally strong safety run defender to the mix but kept Butler off the field. Unfortunately Chung gave up 5/7 targets for 70 yards.

Quick word on Gilmore and Rowe: The outside corners, after the switch were good. That switch happened later than I wanted but it didn't decide the game. Smith still has the top end speed to beat Butler vertically. I would not have played Butler over these two. I think Belichick indicated he feared that speed by initially putting Gilmore on him (although Pats often play their #1 CB against the opponent's #2).

Going into the game the big nickel defense made sense. In the game the only spot Butler could have played was in the slot if you do not want him against Smith or Jeffery. Given you are at a disadvantage and want size against the run it would make sense to play a safety there. Remember, the Eagles are still gashing you there, the front 5/6/7 is not helping so many times stopping the run will fall to the secondary.

That brings us to Butler.

Slot cornerback is a hard position to play and many traditional outside corners struggle with a move to the slot and/or won't be moved there. Slot corner and boundary corner are different positions and require different skill-sets and have different responsibilities. The Patriots experimented with Butler in the slot but he did not perform well there. PFF seems to back that up as he had a 128.5 opposing QB rating in 225+ snaps in the slot from 2015-2016. He is not a guy who has succeeded against slot receivers. Agholor is a super-athletic and slightly larger slot receiver who Butler, I think, would have struggled against. Agholor was in the middle of a resurgence and career year. Butler also would have had to defend the run, which at his size is a large ask. The Eagles run a lot to the edge so Butler would have been challenged.

Butler was having an inconsistent season, had several glaring mental errors against JAX the week before, was physically recovering from the FLU (weakening an already small player) and missed a lot of practices. So he was unprepared going into the game in a season where he struggled. With the time that Foles had and how spread out their attack was one blown coverage could easily be a huge chunk gain. I've read, but can't find it, that Butler struggled with the mental aspects of the game and that the Patriots had to simplify his role on the defense before. Either way you would be putting him against a very good slot receiver, with limited practice/preparation, in a role he struggles with and a role that has complicated responsibilities. Butler is already going to be a liability against the run. In addition to his deficiency against the run 1) with not being prepared to go against a complex offense, 2) in a role (slot corner) he is ill-suited for, 3) when the Patriots secondary is already going to be stressed due to the deficiencies up front, and 4) where a blown coverage or mental error can easily result in a huge play (as we saw, a lot, in the game), Belichick added up the potential positives and negatives and came to the conclusion that he was not a viable option against the Eagles.

Final note: Richards and Bademosi were targeted 4 times. Bademosi was targeted once and gave up a crucial 3rd down conversion (whiff) for 14 yards. Richards was 3-3 for 81 yards but his big blunder was against Clement who Butler was not going to cover.

I think if Butler plays and your base package for the game is Gilmore, Rowe, Butler, DMC, Harmon/Chung with the way the linebackers and defensive-line played the Eagles would have run even more and probably had even more success.

I do not believe the Patriots defense would have played materially better against the Eagles with Butler in the slot or up against Smith. Their talent-gap in the front and on the trenches doomed them from the start against the Eagles offense.
Where the fuck did you learn to write?
 

Van Everyman

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Great post @SMU_Sox

Your conclusion stuck out to me:

I think if Butler plays and your base package for the game is Gilmore, Rowe, Butler, DMC, Harmon/Chung with the way the linebackers and defensive-line played the Eagles would have run even more and probably had even more success.
If by "success" you mean that it would have had the effect of taking the ball out of Brady's hands, I agree. So, no comeback (and maybe why Butler didn't get on the field in the second half). This is a point I've seen elsewhere, but without your thoughtful analysis.

A few questions. First, do you think Belichick was trying to bait the Eagles into throwing? Or was it purely a scheme and matchup thing? The reason I ask is that we learned that the Eagles were commenting that "21 isn't in the game." Butler being benched obviously caught the Eagles off-guard.

Second, did you think this was a risky game plan by Belichick's standards given the circumstances? Yes, they gave up tons of yards and points but they also almost won the game ...
 

SMU_Sox

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Great post @SMU_Sox

A few questions. First, do you think Belichick was trying to bait the Eagles into throwing? Or was it purely a scheme and matchup thing? The reason I ask is that we learned that the Eagles were commenting that "21 isn't in the game." Butler being benched obviously caught the Eagles off-guard.
I don't think he was trying to bait them into throwing. I think he was worried about being about able to defend against the run and the pass on most plays and the Eagles are a coin-flip to do either out of any formation (slight exaggeration). When they throw the ball with 3 TEs and some combination of FBs, RBs, or maybe 1 WR you can't go by what seems obvious. (I forgot who they did this against, maybe MIN). When they block like it is a run to the right but throw to the left on a delayed route you can't go by what seems obvious. HT to Masco for pointing that out. Honestly, if you like any of what I said please support and listen to LockedonPatriots. Also, they run a lot out of 11 personnel and a lot of the time Foles or Wentz would make that decision post snap so your defense has to be aware of both responsibilities. Foles was put into a position where he could make a decision based on what the defense gave him. They threw or ran at will because nothing was taken away consistently and effectively except perhaps their two outside receivers after the Rowe/Gilmore switch. Again, if Butler is playing he is probably covering Smith or Jeffery.


Second, did you think this was a risky game plan by Belichick's standards given the circumstances? Yes, they gave up tons of yards and points but they also almost won the game ...
I don't think I am qualified to give that take. I am at a point where I can break down to the best of my ability what happened and why but not at the point where I can confidently say I would have done X or they could have tried Y. You need to have a thorough understanding of the players in your system and how schemes work and work against other schemes to be able to assess that. So take what I say next with a giant grain of salt.

I saw an overmatched defense and a plan that tried to maximize flexibility and responsiveness to the run/pass but when your front 5/6/7 consistently lose their reps, the QB has all day, and the Eagles talented skill positions players have time to get open, there are not a lot of schemes that will help you there. I think given their talent level on defense and the matchup any gameplan they had would have been risky.

The Eagles were aggressive and rightfully so on 4th down. The Patriots won on defense this year in part by eventually forcing a 4th down to get off the field even though it was a 4th and short. The Eagles did not struggle to get 4-6 yards so when faced with a 4th and medium to short they executed and won.

When I look at their roster and situation going into the game I am not sure I see a lot of better options and game plans but I also know that is going to be a limitation of my knowledge. I keep coming back to their linebackers because Van Noy had a bad game and Roberts is someone I would like to see them upgrade and replace ASAP. Their linebacking group was a black hole in the Super Bowl especially against the pass. Combine that with the defensive line losing more often than not on their reps, the way all the guys on the roster played that day, and the profiles and abilities of the guys who didn't play suggest that they had a tall order in front of them. That's why I asked Theo where he would play Butler and who he wanted on the field.

My opinion changes when I find new information. If someone has a good argument for what they should have done I am all ears.
Where the fuck did you learn to write?
I have the utmost respect for you and Dave. Wish I had worked with you pre-law school.
 

DrewDawg

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I think the entire Eagles fan base was convinced that the gods were screwing with them, and that Brady was in fact going to do that very thing.
I think I was more stunned that the strip sack happened than I was the year prior coming back from 28-3. I just fucking knew he was going to pull it out.

I was just speechless.
 

Eddie Jurak

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I do not believe the Patriots defense would have played materially better against the Eagles with Butler in the slot or up against Smith. Their talent-gap in the front and on the trenches doomed them from the start against the Eagles offense.
It's a good attempt at an explanation, but suffers from the same flaw that most explanations do. "Materially better", in this case, could have been as little as making 1 more third down stop. It could have been 1 tackle (something Butler is good at) or one ripping out of the ball after a catch (something else Butler has been known to do).
 

speedracer

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It's a good attempt at an explanation, but suffers from the same flaw that most explanations do. "Materially better", in this case, could have been as little as making 1 more third down stop. It could have been 1 tackle (something Butler is good at) or one ripping out of the ball after a catch (something else Butler has been known to do).
Assuming everything else stayed constant, the detailed denial of which was the main argument of the post.
 

streeter88

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I think I was more stunned that the strip sack happened than I was the year prior coming back from 28-3. I just fucking knew he was going to pull it out.

I was just speechless.
Yup. Same. Plus I was in a bar surrounded by Eagles fans, struggling with a gimpy stomach therefore not able to eat any of the great food that they were catering. Really subpar all the way around.
 

Eddie Jurak

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Exactly. If we're down 17 at the end, Brady isn't handed the ball with a chance to win the game on the final drive.
The most likely route to that would have been Harmon failing to make his spectacular INT. It's not as if the Pats D had a few key stops that might not have happened with Butler in there.
 

Super Nomario

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I think so. Look, this is one of the better years for off-ball linebackers, interior d-line depth, but short on pure edge rushers (although there are guys who should be available in rounds which they are worthy of being taken in like say Sam Hubbard - complete edge/LB not just rusher - in the back end of the first or early second or Duke Ejiofor in the 3rd).
I actually think edge rusher is pretty solid. Flowers is probably the best pass rusher they've had since McGinest, Wise had a terrific rookie year and could make the year 2 leap, they just signed Clayborn, a solid vet, and Rivers was a high pick last year. Is anyone they add at 31 likely to materially improve that unit? I'm skeptical. I guess the X factor is if they think Shelton's presence means they can essentially use Flowers or Clayborn as a 3-4 DE and get an extra pass rusher on the field, but they usually only carry four edge guys and I don't see them cutting any of Flowers / Clayborn / Wise / Rivers.

I love the idea of a "have your cake and eat it too" pick like Hubbard or Carter who can do some edge stuff and some off-ball LB stuff. Our ITP Draft Guide scouts were really high on both of them. Dan Hatman, who runs the Scouting Academy and is directing the scouting for this effort, was personally pounding the table to move Carter up. Either would inject a lot of athleticism into the front seven and they have prototypical Belichick size.

I'm also intrigued by adding either an undersized speedy LB or a pure 3-tech / penetrator type. I haven't decided who I like best out of those classes of players.
 

drleather2001

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I don’t think he’s doing himself any favors saying that. Other players have confirmed he had an off year and was bad in practice leading up the game.
 

TheoShmeo

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The response above by @SMU_Sox remains the most cogent analysis I've read about Butler's benching. I am grateful that he wrote it and have re-read it more than once. Still, the thing that gnaws at me and has all along that one of the Pats better secondary players was on the bench while lesser players played ahead of him. And, correspondingly, that the Pats really only had a to make a few more stops in that game in order to win.

As many have likely seen, Danny Amendola just commented along those lines.

https://nesn.com/2018/04/danny-amendola-still-bitter-over-malcolm-butlers-super-bowl-benching/

My point here is not to re-open the debate. This post or that link will not be a eureka moment for anyone, of course. For me, with the draft approaching, the Sox on fire, the Bruins lighting up the Leafs and the injured Cs about to begin a playoff series, there are thankfully other things for my addled sports brain to focus on. My point is that as much as SMU's analysis will continue to make sense, as will the basic notion that Bill is Bill, and has well earned a shit ton of deference, there will always be aspects of the decision making in this game that will sting, and I suspect that will be true for a lot of other Pats fans and maybe even players, coaches and others more connected than any of us are.
 

rodderick

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I don’t think he’s doing himself any favors saying that. Other players have confirmed he had an off year and was bad in practice leading up the game.
So just come out and tell him "hey, you've sucked lately, so you won't be playing". How hard is that? Making that kind of unexpected decision and then feeling like you don't owe your players an explanation is bullshit.
 

drleather2001

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So just come out and tell him "hey, you've sucked lately, so you won't be playing". How hard is that? Making that kind of unexpected decision and then feeling like you don't owe your players an explanation is bullshit.
Sure.
 

bakahump

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SMU, Great Post.

Do you think the idea of Butler in the game and turning it into a "Running Game" for philadelphia would have controlled the clock and hurt the Pats offense? Might that have come into the BB decision? IE "Lets get into a shootout, I have Brady they have Foles."

And at the end of the day it was working out perfect until the Strip, and if you assume (as many of us do) that Brady would have continued to carve them up on a GW drive.
 

Bongorific

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Butler has been awful this year. Gilmore has been top 5 elite, generally shadowing an opponent’s best receiver against teams that are throwing to play catch up against the pats. And he’s averaging about 2 catches against per game.

Thanks for everything Malcolm but Bill nailed this one.