4 Ways the Patriots Can Help Cam Newton
The Pats are under .500 after five games for the first time since 2002, their facility was shut down for much of the past two weeks because of COVID-19, and the team had just two practices with Cam Newton returning from his leave of absence because of the virus since Oct. 2.
The result was an ugly offensive performance in an 18-12 loss to the Broncos. The former Panthers star has thrown four interceptions to just two touchdowns, and coming off a 10-point performance against the Chiefs, the offense was already in bad shape.
There should be hope, though. The Pats still have one of the best football minds in the history of the game in Bill Belichick, Newton is still a talented quarterback, and some players should get back from injury soon.
Here's how the Pats could help Newton get back on track.
Throughout his career, Newton has always been a strong play-action passer. Whether it's off a designed run for him or faking the handoff to a back, he has been proficient when the defense is forced to look in the backfield for a split second.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, Newton was 5-of-5 for 60 yards on play-action passes against the Broncos. He was the top quarterback in the league in completion percentage at 80 percent on those passes for the year going into this week.
Play-action attempts only account for about 32 percent of his total pass attempts. It's a reasonable rate but one that can and should be increased if the Patriots want to minimize mistakes.
The argument could be made that the running game isn't good enough to warrant an increase in play-action, but there's more to it than "establishing the run." The play design itself forces the defense to honor the run and gives Newton more time to make a throw in rhythm.
More 21 Personnel
Newton and the Patriots are getting little out of the receivers. N'Keal Harry was on the field for more than half of the snaps Sunday but was only targeted twice and had no catches. Julian Edelman wasn't much better with two catches on six targets for eight yards.
Bill Belichick has not traditionally been a heavy user of "21" personnel (two running backs, one tight end, two receivers), but he should look at using it more this season.
According to Sharp Football Stats, the Pats have been in 21 personnel for 25 percent of the snaps (up from 14 percent in 2019). On those plays, the team has completed 10-of-12 passes with a "successful pass" percentage of 69 percent. In the traditional "11" personnel, they have completed 46-of-70 passes with a 51 percent rate of successful passes.
Utilizing a fullback and tight end forces teams to have more dedicated run defenders. That should give the receivers a better opportunity to get one-on-one coverage, Newton to have more play-action and the offense to be more efficient.
Run Him Earlier
Even at 31, Newton has still proved to be a threat on the ground. The Patriots are averaging 5.1 yards per carry, and that's anchored by Newton, who leads the team in rushing with 225 yards.
With Sony Michel on the COVID list, Newton is the most effective runner the Patriots have. However, he only has five carries in the first quarter this season. The offense had its best moments in the second half against Denver when he had the bulk of his 76 yards on 10 carries.
On the opening drive, he went right off tackle for a 12-yard gain. He wouldn't have his number called again until the second quarter, and that was just to convert a 3rd-and-1. In the fourth quarter, he had four carries for 57 yards.
The offense is at its most dangerous when Newton is using his feet, and getting that established earlier can only help.
Add Another Weapon
After the Broncos game, Newton said: "There's no need to press the panic button. There's no need to start reinventing the wheel. We have the answers in that locker room."
However, if the Patriots are to get things back on track, they're going to need more than James White and 34-year-old Julian Edelman. The days of trotting out a mediocre receiving corps and letting the quarterback figure it out are gone.
Belichick and Co. need to make a move to add a receiver or tight end who can make a difference before the Nov. 3 trade deadline. The organization has shown a willingness to do so already after trading a second-round pick for Mohamed Sanu last season—even though that went terribly.
That move didn't work out, but it doesn't mean the Pats shouldn't take a similar swing again. If they are invested in making the Newton experiment work, they must give him some weapons to play.