Examining Dowling's drop-off

The Indianapolis Colts on Tuesday signed cornerback Darius Butler, a once-familiar face in New England who is now with his third NFL team after being out of football for the first three weeks of this season.

Butler was a second-round pick of the Patriots in 2009 who contributed his rookie season (14 games, 5 starts, 3 interceptions) and started the first two games of the 2010 season before being benched and hardly contributing after that.

Let's fast-forward a bit.

Drafted in the second round of the 2011 draft, cornerback Ras-I Dowling could very well be following a similar path as Butler. The 33rd overall pick started the first two games of his rookie season before suffering a season-ending hip injury, and played in 57 percent of the defensive snaps in the regular-season opener this season.

But then something happened.

Dowling did not play in Week 2 against the Cardinals and played for just four defensive snaps on Sunday night in Baltimore. Sterling Moore took over third-cornerback duties for both weeks, and when starter Kyle Arrington went down with an injury late in the Ravens game, it was Marquice Cole who came onto the field, not Dowling.

After Week 2, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia hinted at game plan being the reason for Dowling's reduced snaps, a head-scratcher given that in August, player personnel director Nick Caserio singled out Dowling for his size (he's 6-foot-1), noting that there has been an influx of bigger cornerbacks in the league to match up against bigger receivers.

So why wasn't Dowling on the field against the Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald (6-3, 218) in Week 2, or against the Ravens' Anquan Boldin (6-1, 220) or Jacoby Jones (6-2, 220) in Week 3?

It's a disappearance akin to Butler's drop-off in 2010, and less than a year later, the Patriots cut ties with their second-round pick from two years earlier.

Could Dowling's career in New England be heading in a similar direction?

It's too early to sound the alarm, but between Dowling and Shane Vereen -- who returned to practice on Sept. 12 from a foot injury but has been inactive the last two games -- the Patriots are surely looking for something a bit more from their pair of 2011 second-round picks.