Preseason Week 2 Takeaways: What Should the Patriots Do with Cam Newton?August 20, 2021
Preseason Week 2 Takeaways: What Should the Patriots Do with Cam Newton?
In the lone NFL preseason game Thursday night, there were very few starter-vs.-starter battles, the Philadelphia Eagles' starting quarterback was scratched due to an illness prior to kickoff, that team failed to score a point, there were several potentially serious injuries and we had a blowout on our hands from the jump.
But that doesn't mean we didn't learn a lot as the Eagles stumbled their way through a 35-0 loss to the New England Patriots.
Here are five takeaways from the maiden matchup in Week 2 of the NFL preseason.
Cam Newton Looked Good, but so Did Mac Jones: What Now?
For the second successive week, veteran quarterback Cam Newton looked smooth while running the New England offense. He once again was particularly crisp when it came to moving the ball underneath, but he was also 3-for-3 on passes that traveled 10-plus yards, according to Pro Football Focus.
The potential problem for Newton? Rookie first-round pick Mac Jones, who threw the ball better than Newton down the field last Thursday, once again looked like a veteran in the pocket and a rocket launcher on deep and intermediate passes. As The Athletic's Jeff Howe pointed out, the Alabama product was 13 of 19 for 146 yards but with three drops and a spike accounting for four of those six incompletions.
Imagine if N'Keal Harry had pulled in this dime?
Regardless, unless a lot changes in the team's final preseason game, Bill Belichick may have some thinking to do. The team's actions this offseason indicate they're all in for 2021, and it would be a shame to let Jones waste away on the sideline when he looks stellar and they could have used that first-round pick on an impact player elsewhere.
But Newton has an MVP on his resume. He's got star power, and it's entirely possible he's getting his groove back after several disappointing but often unhealthy seasons in both Carolina and New England.
Trading Newton now would be a little too bold, and it wouldn't make a lot of sense financially considering he'll make less than $6 million in 2021 without achieving incentives. Plus, the sample remains small with Jones, who hasn't faced a lot of starting competition yet.
The Pats should, however, strongly consider an approach that is sometimes suggested in similar situations but almost never put into action: Using both quarterbacks situationally throughout the season.
Newton may be more of a "starter" with his experience and ability to carry the offense for a run-oriented team, while Jones could be the closer when they need a strong arm or a change of pace, especially when trailing. They could also mix it up depending on defensive matchups, and it would be one way to help preserve the oft-injured Newton's body throughout the year.
If anyone's going to attempt something that wild and get away with it, it's Bill Belichick. I wouldn't be surprised if the idea floated through his unique football mind by now.
DeVonta Smith's Debut Deserves Context
Yes, Eagles rookie wide receiver DeVonta Smith caught just two of the four passes thrown his way for 19 yards in what was the highly touted first-round pick's NFL debut. But he ran a sweet route against strong corner J.C. Jackson before a late Joe Flacco throw was broken up on the first incompletion, and it's hard to heavily fault him for poor timing with the unfamiliar Flacco on a back-shoulder drop later on.
He did burn Patriots reserve corner Michael Jackson on a third-down conversion late in the first half. And we're talking about an undersized rookie working with a washed-up backup after Jalen Hurts was scratched at the eleventh hour.
It would be ridiculous to draw any significant conclusions about Smith based on Thursday's underwhelming performance.
If anything, the continued disappearance of Jalen Reagor is worth your attention. The 2019 first-round pick has caught just three of the six passes thrown his way for 25 yards in two preseason outings, paving the way for the intriguing Quez Watkins to potentially earn a larger role.
The Patriots Offensive Backfield Could Legitimately Be a Five-Headed Monster
Damien Harris, Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead and James White all got plenty of action in the New England backfield last season. That's nothing new for Belichick, who loves mixing, matching, rotating and interchanging his running backs.
This year, Burkhead is gone but Harris, Michel and White look like big factors again, and rookie fourth-round pick Rhamondre Stevenson and undrafted sophomore J.J. Taylor look strong as well.
Harris and Michel combined for 48 yards on 13 carries Thursday, before Stevenson and Taylor combined for 159 on 27. That came a week after Stevenson went for 127 and a pair of touchdowns on 10 attempts, and keep in mind that Taylor averaged a strong 4.8 yards per carry as a rookie in 2020.
There might not be room for all four next to the pass-catching specialist White and versatile veteran Brandon Bolden, but Stevenson and Taylor are fresh and doing things like this, which could make for a tough decision for Belichick. Don't be shocked if he opts to keep both of those guys on the final roster (along with Harris, White and Bolden) and move on from Michel via trade or even release.
Regardless, you might want to avoid this backfield early in fantasy drafts.
Will Jalen Hurts Be Ready?
By all indications, this will be a rehearsal campaign for the 2020 second-round pick in relief of Carson Wentz in Philadelphia, but he completed just three passes in his preseason debut and then he suddenly became sick—despite moving around well in pregame warmups—and missed Thursday's game.
At what point should Eagles fans become concerned about the lack of action for Hurts? He still hasn't worked in game mode with Smith with only one preseason game remaining, and it would be nice if he put more live time in with the new offense, but let's remember that there was no preseason last year and Hurts did throw 148 regular-season passes.
At least the speculation about a potential trade or gamesmanship can go away now that we know Hurts was briefly hospitalized and diagnosed with a stomach infection, per ESPN's Adam Schefter. Hopefully we get a chance to see him in the Eagles' preseason finale against the New York Jets, but Philly head coach Nick Sirianni rightly pointed out that Hurts' reps in joint practices count for something as well.
Nick Folk's Job Looks to Be Safe
Veteran Patriots kicker Nick Folk had to wonder if he was in trouble when undrafted rookie Quinn Nordin was perfect on 14 uncontested field goals during in-stadium camp practices before nailing all three of his attempts (including a 50-yarder) in the team's preseason opener.
But Nordin did miss an extra point last week, and then he missed two more as well as a 36-yard field-goal attempt against the Eagles. And now, barring something unforeseen, he'll be looking for a job elsewhere soon while the 36-year-old Folk will keep his gig entering Week 1.
It's a cruel business, especially if you're serving in that role under a dude like Belichick.