NEPD Staff Writer: Doug Kyed
It might not be the biggest question in New England right now (What are the Sox doing or something about politics that I’m not following) but it’s one I’ve been asking myself for weeks: Why isn’t Ras-I Dowling playing?
It sounds easy – he is injured. Is it really that simple?
Here’s what we know: Dowling was injured during week two and Leigh Bodden was injured during week 3. After losing to the Bills the Patriots switched over to a zone defense for the Raiders in week 4. It was a move that made sense because it plays to the strengths of Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington and New England’s weak safety play.
The Patriots secondary looked much better against the Raiders and New England kept the zone against the Jets in week 5. We saw Arrington start at CB, Bodden play limited snaps and Dowling absent for the third consecutive week, even though he was active.
It’s telling that Josh Barrett and Ryan Mallett were inactive, rather than Dowling. Earlier, Mallett was active when the Patriots had players who could not play. If Dowling were so hurt that he couldn’t have played, would he have been active?
So is Dowling not playing because of his injury, or is he not playing because the Patriots aren’t ready to use him in the zone?
I have a feeling that like most things in life, it’s a little bit of both.
I’m sure that since Dowling was active, he could have played against the Jets. That said, while the defense is starting to click in the zone it makes sense to hold him out a couple more weeks to get him fully healthy for the remainder of the season. That would also give him time to get fully acclimated with the zone defense.
Arrington, McCourty and Patrick Chung were already familiar with the zone from last season where the New England defense played better in general.
The next question is, when Bodden and Dowling come back to full time roles, will the Patriots return to the man coverage? Or will they stay in the zone where they’ve been more successful?
Again, probably a little bit of both.
I think Dowling could be a real threat and a McCourty-like impact rookie in man coverage. He possesses elite speed, he’s physical and he’s big enough to cover pretty much any WR. He showed skills in weeks one & two to be a potential shut down cornerback.
Then again, the Patriots best defensive back, McCourty, is probably best suited for zone coverage where he can play off opposing WRs a little bit. Arrington and the safeties are better off for the zone, but I’d say Bodden is more suited for man coverage where he can match up against the opposing slot receiver.
What will Belichick do? Do we ever know? I’d stay in the zone and keep Dowling out until he gets acclimated. It might not play to all of his strengths, but his speed and reaction time should be enough for him to be a star in any system the Patriots play in.
Tags: Ras-I Dowling