There are three big reasons why Tennessee Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler could be a good matchup against Texans receiver Demaryius Thomas.
The Tennessee Titans face a tough challenge this week in the Houston Texans’ talented group of wide receivers. The newest member of that group, former Bronco Demaryius Thomas, seems best suited for one Titans cornerback in particular.
Free agency signee Malcolm Butler has really struggled at times during the 2018 season, though his last two games have been a bit of a step forward. “I’m not even sure,” Butler said when asked about the reasons behind his early season struggles. “I’m figuring it out now just by getting two games in a row pretty decent.”
Despite there being plenty more downs than ups in Butler’s 2018 campaign, he is the Titans’ best choice to match-up with Thomas on Monday Night Football in Houston. Here are three reasons why Butler could have success against Thomas.
1. The Titans’ other corners are better suited for other matchups.
When we asked Vrabel about Malcolm Butler’s issues on Monday, he said this:
Today, Butler’s been fine, but the other DB’s have had the same problem. pic.twitter.com/raFgIe4Jw6
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) October 21, 2018
Demaryius Thomas is far from the Texans’ only capable weapon in the passing game. They also have the young and very quick Keke Coutee manning the slot, and the ever-elite DeAndre Hopkins remains at the top of his game and in sync with quarterback DeShaun Watson.
That being the case, the Titans will not be able to focus on just one opposing receiver Monday night. If you don’t give one of these guys the proper attention, they will exploit you.
Even after his disappointing effort against T.Y. Hilton and the Colts, cornerback Adoree’ Jackson is probably the Titans’ best option to cover Hopkins. While Hopkins certainly has a size advantage over Jackson, Jackson’s elite athleticism and frequently-sticky man coverage could be a key to slowing down one of the NFL’s best receivers.
Logan Ryan, who has had a lot of success in the slot during his time with the Titans, will likely see a lot of Coutee. Ryan’s physicality has been a tough matchup for many smaller, shiftier inside receivers this season and Coutee will likely not be an exception.
That leaves, by process of elimination, Butler to stay with Thomas. There are other reasons why Butler is the best choice to cover Thomas, but a big one is that his teammates in the secondary are probably better-suited for Houston’s other dynamic receivers.
2. Thomas is the ideal style of receiver for Butler to cover.
— State of the Texans (@SOTTexans) November 19, 2018
Earlier in his career, Thomas was perhaps the best all-around receiver in the NFL. His size allowed him to play with physicality, often outmanning defensive backs for contested catches and breaking tackles.
Additionally, Thomas was a very explosive athlete and had tremendous speed. Many times, when Peyton Manning was his quarterback, Thomas took quick screen passes for chunk gains, outrunning defenders with his great ability to separate.
Now, things are a bit different when it comes to Thomas’ skill set. At age 30, Thomas no longer has the top-notch speed that made him such a threat in the earlier parts of his career in Denver.
As a result, he has to beat coverage in different ways. His physicality is of even more importance now, and he must run very crisp and efficient routes. Thomas is no longer simply a size-speed guy; he has to win with veteran prowess.
When the Titans signed Butler in the offseason, they likely envisioned him matching up against these types of receivers. Butler is too slow to effectively cover speedier receivers, and true #1 receivers like DeAndre Hopkins can give him fits.
But against a bigger, more physical receiver, Butler is at his best. He plays with aggressiveness and physicality, two traits that are needed in order to hold someone in Thomas’ mold in check.
Butler also has the ability to challenge receivers with press coverage at the line of scrimmage, something that could be very detrimental to Thomas since he’s not much of a burner anymore. If there was ever a receiver for Butler to cover, it’s Thomas.
3. It could give him a needed boost of confidence.
#Titans CB Malcolm Butler plays vs his former team today: Butler has allowed 39 receptions for 618 yards and 7 TDs in his first season with Tennessee. All are most in the NFL among CBs. (via PFF)
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) November 11, 2018
After a disastrous first half of the season, Butler seems to have found some sort of consistency over the Titans’ last two games. He did a nice job matching up with Chris Hogan against the Patriots, and he was far from being the defense’s biggest issue against the Indianapolis Colts.
Those games, undoubtedly, served as a confidence boost for Butler. He was playing well below the value of his large contract, and that probably took a toll on him.
If the Titans were to trust Butler against Thomas and he did well, that could propel Butler to ultimately becoming the player the Titans signed him to be back in April. Confidence is a big part of playing the cornerback position, and Butler is still desperately in need of it.
Asked about the mindset with which he’ll attack Monday night’s game, Butler said it’s all about taking steps forward. “Can’t change the past, just got to finish strong and make plays, help my team. I’ve got to go attack the film first, build my confidence up, play my game within the scheme of the game plan. Just got to go out there on Monday and let it loose.”
There is a good chance the Titans will trust Butler to stick with Thomas for most of the night, and that would be the correct decision. Succeeding in that spot would go a long way toward regaining the trust of his coaches and fans alike.
Cover image: USA Today/Matthew Emmons & Isaiah J. Downing