As has been a topic of conversation lately, the New England Patriots have spent a whole bunch of draft capital on the secondary without much in the way of returns. Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty have had flashes, but on the whole the unit has been a letdown.
One person who has been a bit of a no-show since being drafted is 2011 second-round pick Ras-I Dowling. After missing all of last season with an injury—something he has a history with—Dowling has seen mixed playing time 2012.
Dowling played in 36 of 65 defensive snaps in Week 1 against the Tennessee Titans to mixed results. He was not targeted once in that game, which speaks to his ability to be a shutdown corner. He did, however, get flagged for a defensive pass interference, but that call did not end up hurting the Patriots in the long run.
Strangely enough, the following week Dowling did not step on the field once against the Cardinals despite his size at 6'1" being an asset against bigger receivers like Larry Fitzgerald. The trend continued in Week 3 with Dowling only stepping on the field four times, giving way to Sterling Moore.
With a second-round pick and a year on injured reserve already sunk into this player, why would the Patriots not give him a chance to make a difference? 36 snaps is a pretty big sample-size and in that time he was effective.
The reason has to be something fans cannot see on Sunday and most reporters can't see in practice reports. There must be something—either physical or mental—going on with Dowling that explains why he isn't on the field more.
In theory, a nickel package with Dowling and McCourty on the outsides and Kyle Arrington in the slot makes for a tough beat in passing situations. Instead, Moore has gotten the snaps and we all saw what happened against the Ravens.
It seems that matchups will dictate who fills that role and it is possible that last week's game plan simply failed in handling receivers. Jacoby Jones and Torrey Smith took advantage of the less physical Moore en route to huge days through the air.
With the Buffalo Bills on the slate next, it will be interesting to watch the snap count for Dowling vs. Moore and how each performs when called upon. It is likely that Bill Belichick and the Patriots' front office will not let too much more time pass on Dowling before making him a consistent part of the defense.