The Patriots defensive line has had problems all season, both stopping the run and getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Over the past two games, Adam Butler has helped improve the latter of the two deficiencies. The Patriots did a great job containing Kyler Murray two weeks ago and were dominant against the Chargers on Sunday. Butler was a big part of both outings and has begun to elevate himself from role player to a multi-down player who specializes in attacking the quarterback.
The Patriots signed Butler as an undrafted free agent in 2017, a time when their front seven had much more talent than it does today. Butler made the team and generally played 50% or fewer of the snaps his first two years, save for a few games when he took on a larger role. In 2019, Butler emerged as a legitimate interior pass rusher with six sacks and nine quarterback hits. 2020 has seen Butler start out playing over 50% of the snaps before an injury and inconsistent play limited his reps.
His fortunes have changes over the past three games he has played and the Patriots front seven has looked better too. Butler missed New England’s game against Houston, in which the defense got little pressure on Deshaun Watson and had stretches where they couldn’t stop the Texans at all. Prior to the Houston game, Butler played 59% of the snaps against Baltimore and although his stats may not look like much (three tackles) he played an important role in keeping Lamar Jackson in the pocket and forcing the Ravens to try to throw on the Patriots.
Since his return from injury, Butler has two sacks and four quarterback hits in two games. He also helped make a touchdown saving tackle at the end of the first half against Arizona on a 3rd and goal. He played 62% of the snaps against the Cardinals before registering 49% against Los Angeles. He likely would have played more against the Chargers had the game been closer.
Butler has pushed the pocket in front of the quarterback with is strength but also shown the athletic ability to blow by offensive lineman like he did when he sacked Justin Herbert on Sunday. Butler may not develop into a star every-down player, but his increased effectiveness in his role has had a direct effect on the rest of New England’s front seven. They will need every bit of the Butler effect to continue if they are to continue on their path to the playoffs.