When Brian Flores hears the words, “Malcolm, GO!” he’s transported back to the sideline in the decisive moments of Super Bowl XLIX, when a gutsy call and a big play sealed a Patriots victory.
“It takes me back to a great memory,” Flores said via conference call Tuesday.
The Malcolm in question is, of course, Malcolm Butler, the undrafted cornerback who became a household name (and starter) in New England following his interception in the end zone against the Seahawks.
“Obviously, I have a good history with Malcolm,” said Flores, the Patriots’ de facto defensive coordinator. “I think he’s a great player, incredible player. He was a joy to coach, a joy to be around, really looking forward to seeing him this weekend and I wish him all the best always.”
Things have not been the best for Butler in Tennessee, where the Patriots will play the Titans Sunday. He signed a $61.25 million deal, with $30 million guaranteed, this offseason after his Patriots career ended awkwardly with his benching in Super Bowl LII. Butler has not lived up to his contract so far as a Titan.
The Tennessee defense has allowed an NFL-low 14 touchdowns, 11 through the air and three on the ground. But Butler is responsible for seven of those scores (receiving and rushing), the most given up by any cornerback in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.
Butler has allowed 39 catches for 618 yards, also the most among NFL cornerbacks in both categories.
He gave up two touchdowns Monday night against the Cowboys, first getting spun around by Amari Cooper, who faked a slant then lost Butler cutting back outside, then getting burned by a double move from Allen Hurns.
Butler will get another chance Sunday against the Patriots, even after that poor performance. Titans coach Mike Vrabel told reporters in Tennessee Tuesday that he is not going to bench Butler and that he thinks technique issues and reading the wrong keys are at the root of the problems.
“When you play man coverage, you have to look at your man,” Vrabel said. “Malcolm knows that, and we’ve talked about that. We continue to practice that, we continue to coach it, and we try to show it to him.
“When he does that, it’s pretty good. It’s competitive. He challenges the receivers. And when you look back at the quarterback, your man has a tendency to go in the other direction.”
Doing it their way
The Titans defense is run by two men — Vrabel and defensive coordinator Dean Pees — who are very familiar with the Patriots.
Pees was on the coaching staff from 2004-09, first as linebackers coach, then as defensive coordinator; Vrabel played for the Patriots from 2001-08.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said the scheme they use in Tennessee has changed but certain fundamental traits remain.
“Whatever they were doing here, they’ve adapted it to their personnel and they’ve had years away from New England to put in new things, try new things, create different things to try to give the offense problems,” McDaniels said.
“The No. 1 thing I can say about both of those guys and the way that this defense plays is that they’re well coached, they’re very sound, they’re very physical and aggressive, which is something I think we always try to be here.”
The Titans have the No. 1 defense in the NFL by points allowed as well as the No. 1 defense in the red zone. Tennessee has allowed the fifth-fewest big plays (classified as runs of at least 15 yards or receptions of at least 20 yards). It has given up 33 such plays, while the Bears, Cowboys, and Texans are tied for first with 29.
In addition to making their signing of safety Obi Melifonwu official, the Patriots made a series of other roster transactions. They signed linebacker Albert McClellan and released offensive lineman Cole Croston and defensive lineman Geneo Grissom from the 53-man roster. They also placed offensive lineman Brian Schwenke on injured reserve and released running back Kenneth Farrow from the practice squad. Both Croston and Grissom are candidates to be brought back on the practice squad . . . Referee Bill Vinovich’s crew will officiate the Patriots-Titans game . . . Coach Bill Belichick noted that the Patriots will be playing the Titans on Veterans Day: “Veterans Day, Memorial Day, those are the holidays that make all of the other holidays possible,” Belichick said, also mentioning that the team has a veteran in Joe Cardona on the roster . . . The Packers released safety Jermaine Whitehead, who was ejected from Sunday’s game against the Patriots.