Cam Newton, New England Patriots Passing Game Film Review

Cam Newton

After a tumultuous offseason, Cam Newton and the New England Patriots took the field and earned a comfortable victory over the Miami Dolphins. This game was highlighted by great defense and a potent rushing attack, as Newton looked every bit as mobile as he did in Carolina. However, what about the passing game?

New England’s biggest problem in 2019 was their lack of talent at the skill positions. Newton’s running ability can partially cover that weakness, but it’s nearly impossible to win in today’s NFL without a good passing attack. Let’s take a look back at each pass attempt from Sunday’s contest and see how both Newton and the receivers look in this offense.

Film Review: Cam Newton, New England Patriots Passing Offense

The Good

With New England’s run game being so effective, the Patriots didn’t need their passing offense to carry the day. Instead, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels asked the passing attack to stay out of the way and not actively lose the game. Newton was certainly up for this task, as he consistently kept the ball out of harms way.

By my charting, Newton only had one below-average throw all day long and didn’t throw any interceptable passes. Coincidentally, that one bad throw came on N’Keal Harry’s best play of the day. On 2nd and 5, Newton dropped back, looking for Harry on a quick slant. Pressure affected the throw, and Harry did a nice job adjusting and hauling in the off-target pass.

As if that wasn’t enough, Harry landed short of the sticks with two defenders draped all over him. That didn’t stop the big-bodied receiver from lowering his shoulder and muscling his way to the first down. Harry had probably the worst play of the game (more on that later), but there was at least one great moment on his tape.

Additionally, Newton started off the game on the right foot. On his first passing attempt of the day, Newton used play action to throw an absolute dart deep downfield to an open Julian Edelman. Even though Edelman dropped that pass (that’s just part of the deal with him), it was a great sign to see Newton throw with this type of velocity. After not seeing him on the field for quite some time, Patriots fans can rest assured that Newton’s arm and legs are fully recovered from the past two seasons.

The Bad

Newton and the passing offense didn’t make too many bad plays, but they didn’t make too many great ones either. Now, one could argue that they didn’t need to, seeing as the Patriots had complete control of the game and the rushing attack was so deadly. While there’s definitely some truth to that, you’d still like to see more out of the unit as a whole.

By my charting, almost all of Newton’s throws were routine or heavily aided by scheme. Josh McDaniels had a fantastic day, and the passing offense owes most of their big plays to his creativity. According to NFL NextGen Stats, the Patriots only had two completions of 10 or more air yards, and that could be a problem moving forward. Having a smart offensive coordinator is obviously a good thing, but you can’t rely on scheme alone to carry you through a 16-game season. Eventually, players will need to start making plays on their own.

The receivers mostly picked up what was provided for them by scheme, and nothing more. However, there was one major exception. Late in the third quarter, the Patriots had a chance to put the game out of reach at Miami’s 10. Newton connected with Harry, but the second-year pro fumbled the ball out of the endzone while extending for the pylon. This was easily the worst play of the night and ruined what was otherwise a solid debut. For what it’s worth, this was also the last target he saw all day.

Cam Newton, New England Patriots Passing Offense Summary

At least through Week 1, it looks like the Patriots are running a better version of the Jacoby Brissett offense. Back in 2016, New England had to start their third-string quarterback after suspension and injury took away Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo. The result was a successful run game supported by a passing offense that managed to keep the offense on track but never took over a game. In 2016, the Patriots did this because it was the only way to win with Brissett. This year, they’re doing it because this supporting cast still isn’t very good.

Cam Newton is obviously better than Brissett, so the ceiling for this style of play is higher now than it was then. That said, this offensive philosophy only works when the defense is able to shut down the opposing offense. A running game, no matter how effective, simply isn’t able to keep up with an elite passing attack. This formula worked against a bad Miami Dolphins team, but will it be able to work against Russell Wilson in Week 2? Only time will tell.

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