The New England Patriots beat the Pittsburgh Steelers last Thursday night in a pretty decisive victory featuring Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. One of the bigger matchups that wasn’t discussed as much was the matchup between Steelers’ top wide receiver Antonio Brown and Patriots’ cornerback Malcolm Butler. Many remember Malcolm Butler’s game-winning interception on Russell Wilson during the Super Bowl, while Antonio Brown is one of the NFL’s top wide receivers due to his consistency and production in the Steelers’ offense. In this breakdown, we will take a look at how well Malcolm Butler covered Antonio Brown.
According to ProFootballFocus, Antonio Brown was targeted 11 times by Ben Roethlisberger catching 9 of them for 133 yards and 1 touchdown. Let’s take a look at some of his plays versus Butler where he was targeted.
Play 1 – Brown’s best attribute by far is his ability to create separation using his route running and quickness off of the line of scrimmage. Every step is precise and serves the purpose of pulling the cornerback in a certain direction just to set up a second movement. He runs a hitch-and-go up the left sideline making Butler assume the ball was coming at the end of the hitch portion. Once Butler turns his head anticipating the ball, he accelerates up the field on the “go” portion of the route.
Play 2 – Antonio Brown lines up in the right slot and runs a seam route up the sideline. Using his speed and an outside release off of the line of scrimmage, he breaks free of Butler’s press-man coverage. Butler doesn’t position himself wide enough and overcompensates by overextending his arms and shoulders trying to slow him down. Brown predictably breaks free and catches the ball for a long gain. This 37-yard reception continues his NFL record of 33 consecutive games with at least 5 receptions and 50 receiving yards.
Play 3 – There were a few plays where Butler had perfect coverage on Brown, but the speedy wide receiver still was able to pull in the reception. In this play, Brown was able to locate the ball and wrestle it out of his hands on this out breaking hitch route that Roethlisberger placed too far inside. Just incredible strength and concentration by Brown in order to pull this in.
Play 4 – Late in the game, the Steelers are down 28-14. Brown lines up in the right outside in the Steelers’ shotgun slot right formation and runs a bench route to the backright of the endzone. At the top of the stem, Brown looks inside hoping to pull Butler away from his intended path. Butler isn’t fooled and follows him in trail technique positioning himself in front of his path. Roethlisberger places the ball just past the outstretched fingers of Butler for a touchdown to Brown in the right corner of the endzone.
Let’s take a look at a few plays where Brown wasn’t targeted on the play, but Butler was still in coverage.
Play 5 – Throughout the game, Butler showed an excellent ability to recover even when he was initially beat off the line of scrimmage. After the snap, Butler takes a kick-step sliding inside to set up the press on Brown. Butler then gets one arm on him to slow him down legally off of the line of scrimmage, but he expertly swipes Butler’s outside arm away to release from the press coverage. He then cuts inside on his dig route creating very little separation between the two forcing Ben Roethlisberger to check the ball down to DeAngelo Williams. Excellent coverage by Butler.
Play 6 – This play is very similar to Play 4 showing Butler’s ability to recover after an initial misstep. In this play, Wheaton motions out of the twin stack left formation leaving Butler to cover Brown in bump-and-run coverage. Off of the line of scrimmage, he steps outside forcing Butler’s hips towards the sideline and outside of Brown’s intended path. After the initial step, Brown then immediately cuts back inside to work his way up the field on his dig route. Even though Butler initially loses contain on him off of the line of scrimmage, he still recovers well enough to stop Brown from making an impact on the play.
Play 7 – Brown takes an outside release on his go-route from the left side of the field not allowing Butler to get his hands on him. Butler does recover well and sticks to the inside hip of him in trail technique to cover him well on this play.
Overall, Antonio Brown had an amazing game that was overshadowed by Brady and Gronkowski’s performance. He showed quickness and an ability to separate from his defenders using a combination of quickness and excellent route running. On the opposite side of the field, Malcolm Butler showed flashes of excellent coverage on short routes, but inconsistency in his press technique when Antonio Brown used a speed release off of the line of scrimmage. Even though Butler has made some good plays last season and flashed potential in this game, he still has a strong need for more development in his game before he can be completely relied on that will only happen with more experience.
Follow Samuel Gold on Twitter: @SamuelRGold.