BOSTON (CBS) — It’s unclear why Malcolm Butler didn’t get the start for the Patriots against the Saints, or why Alan Branch saw a significantly reduced role. But it’s possible that they’re in Bill Belichick’s dog house.

Butler played 49 total snaps against the Saints on Sunday in New Orleans after playing 68 in the Patriots’ Week 1 loss to the Chiefs, according to Pro Football Focus. Branch, meanwhile, played just six snaps after playing 42 in the season opener. The Boston Herald’s Jeff Howe addressed those peculiar snap counts for both Butler and Branch when he joined 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich on Monday.

As for Butler, Howe explained that his slightly reduced role could have simply been a matter of the cornerback having a down game or for Belichick to get a better look at reserve corners like Eric Rowe and Jonathan Jones. But he acknowledged that there could also be an issue between Butler and the head coach that we’re not seeing, although he made it clear that there have been no real indications of that.

“The Butler one is definitely more interesting, because I don’t think that was a matchup thing,” said Howe. “It could be performance. It could be trying to get Rowe more snaps. Last year there was also about a four-week stretch when Logan Ryan got very little playing time because Belichick was trying to see what he had with his other cornerbacks. … It could be that type of situation.

“Or who knows, it could be Belichick trying to send a message to Butler because there’s something he doesn’t like. I’m not sure what’s going on behind the scenes there and what might have led to that.”

Howe finds Branch’s situation less interesting, because he believes it’s fairly clear that Belichick has a problem with the defensive tackle’s subpar conditioning that has apparently led to his early-season drop-off in performance.

“I think the problem is when you [skip offseason workouts] and when you come to camp and then you can’t pass the conditioning test for the first couple weeks, and you don’t have a great game in the opener, it could be Belichick sending him a message that ‘Hey you know what, I understand that you’re always going to get to your best around October, but if the hill is going to be this steep in September then get yourself in shape before you get on the field,” said Howe.

Howe also touched upon the Patriots’ injury woes as they piled up during their win on Sunday. Listen to the full podcast above!

  1. Daniel Cowen says:

    The Patriots played a different style of defense this week, perhaps it was just part of that games, game plan. I get the feeling a trade or two may be in the works. One of those things we will just have to watch play out.

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