Patriots still working it out at cornerback

Patriots still working it out at cornerback

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO -- Darius Butler was in time out on Sunday.

The cornerback had a rough night at New Meadowlands Stadium versus the Jets in Week 2, missing half-a-dozen catches, giving Braylon Edwards a touchdown, and later letting Edwards catch a conversion over his head. Back-to-back pass-interference penalties added to Butler's troubles and earned him a seat on the bench this Sunday. Instead, second-year player Kyle Arrington got the start opposite rookie Devin McCourty. And when the Patriots used a nickelback, it was Jonathan Wilhite.

Butler only saw three plays in the game and neither helped his cause.

During Buffalo's second drive of the second quarter, the CB promptly surrendered a nine-yard completion to Roscoe Parrish that was good for a first down. It could have been worse had Brandon Meriweather not turned the juking receiver back toward Butler's direction.

Butler failed to set the edge again just two plays later and allowed C.J. Spiller to rip off a 19-yard run. Belichick yanked his struggling corner immediately.

And so Arrington -- who learned he would start just late Friday -- and McCourty were left to shoulder the load. They did all right. Right after Butler left the game, Arrington played a little jump ball against Lee Evans in Buffalo's end zone to successfully keep the ball away and six points off the board.

But the Bills got those points on the very next play. After showing such great awareness, Arrington got blocked next time out and allowed the Bills to run a touchdown in along the edge.

Belichick said after the game that divvying up minutes was simply about going with what works. "Kyle has been practicing well, so we thought we'd give him an opportunity there to get in the game," the coach said. "He made a couple plays, so we kind of stayed with it.''

Some things were definitely working for McCourty. The CB had a physical first half. As the clock ticked down in the second half, he posted a solid open-field tackle of Evans after a gain of four.

If nothing else, the Patriots needed to make sure there were no big gains after a Buffalo reception and McCourty did well to read routes and stay on his man to ensure this. A thunderous hit on Marshawn Lynch in the fourth quarter for no gain further asserted his skill as an open-field tackler. Only linebacker Jerod Mayo and safety Patrick Chung had more tackles than McCourty's five.

So while it's not surprising that Darius Butler was a no-show for the post-game media scrum, it's surprising that McCourty dodged reporters as well. Belichick praised the first-year player, however cautiously.

"Devin's playing hard," Belichick said. "He's a tough kid, really studies the material and tries to play the defense the way we want it to be played. There are things he or any rookie needs to learn but . . . he tackles well, runs well. He's done a good job, but there's a lot to learn and a long way to go."

The Patriots coach might have been thinking of Buffalo's fourth-quarter touchdown. It was McCourty, with Chung, whose coverage of Steve Johnson got blown for 37 yards and six points. Arrington agreed that he and the other corners have plenty of work to do this week.

"Our offense can't score 38-40 points a game so we'll just have to work hard this week, even harder than we have in the past weeks,'' he said. "Miami is a good team. They have good backs as well, they're going to run the ball and try to take their shots on us as well. ''

One place for the young defense to turn when looking to improve game-play is to veterans. Arrington said that, though Leigh Bodden can no longer lead by example, the veteran corner has given out advice.

"Bodden just told me the most important thing I could do is relax, let the game come to me and told me I've been doing this since I was in little leagues,'' he smiled. "At the end of the day it's still football. It was definitely great words of encouragement."

And Belichick is there for his guys as well, "We have confidence in all those guys; Darius, Jonathan, Devin, Kyle,'' the coach said.

I'm sure they're happy for the public approval, but Darius Butler and Kyle Arrington both know that a coach's confidence is truly translated into field time. Ask both who is really feeling the love and you'll probably get two different answers. The cornerbacks certainly had very different days.

Mary Paoletti can be reached at mpaoletti@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

Collins' new contract may influence Patriots' negotiations with Hightower

Collins' new contract may influence Patriots' negotiations with Hightower

FOXBORO -- Jamie Collins and the Cleveland Browns are reportedly closing in on a contract that will turn the ex-Pat's place of exile into his long-term place of work. 

That's interesting in itself. The Browns must have made it clear to Collins he was getting franchised, otherwise you'd think Collins would want to get out there and test the market for at least a couple of days when free agency rolled around. 

It will also be interesting for Collins' former teammate in New England, Dont'a Hightower. While the Patriots aren't going to let the Browns dictate their market and offers when it comes to negotiating with Hightower, Collins' contract will be a useful comp for Hightower. 

Whatever Collins gets, Hightower can make the case for a fair amount more. Hightower is the centerpiece of the Patriots defense, a run-stopper, blitzer, leader and tone-setter. From the jersey number (Tedy Bruschi's old number 54) they encouraged him to wear, to selecting him captain, the team and Hightower's teammates have stated how important he is to the club. 

Hightower on the open market would be in line for a contract in the $10 million-per-year range, with a total value of around $50 million (using Luke Kuechly, Navarro Bowman, Bobby Wagner and Lawrence Timmons as comparable players). The Patriots can franchise Hightower just as easily as the Browns could have franchised Collins. The sticking point for the player is that he doesn't realize the windfall of guaranteed money that comes with a long-term deal. The injury Sword of Damocles dangles every day. 

In other words, Collins' influence on the Patriots isn't done yet. 

Patriots have perfect attendance at final practice of AFC Championship week

Patriots have perfect attendance at final practice of AFC Championship week

FOXBORO -- The Patriots had perfect attendance at Friday's practice, meaning they had all 53 players on their active roster present and accounted for at all three practices this week. 

Contrast that with how things have gone for the Steelers this week, and there is a stark difference. Star running back Le'Veon Bell missed each of his team's first two on-the-field workouts this week, and several Steelers players are dealing with a bug that seems to have circulated the locker room. 

The Patriots could have an interesting game-day roster decision to make should Chris Hogan (thigh), Malcolm Mitchell (knee) and Danny Amendola (ankle) both be healthy enough to play on Sunday. They have not entered a game with five receivers in uniform this season but could potentially dress Mitchell, Amendola, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Michael Floyd.

Other players listed as limited participants in practice this week are Brandon Bolden (knee), Martellus Bennett (knee), Dont'a Hightower (shoulder) and Jabaal Sheard (knee).