The New England Patriots might have figured out a major offensive dilemma Sunday night late in their Week 2 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
The Patriots’ skill-position group won’t be mistaken for one of the best pass-catching units in the NFL, but New England has some talent at running back, wide receiver and tight end, and quarterback Cam Newton wasn’t afraid to spread the ball around in Seattle while mounting a comeback. Julian Edelman will be Newton’s top target. The 34-year-old receiver is on pace for a ridiculous 104-catch, 1,888-yard season after two games.
But 2019 first-round pick N’Keal Harry could actually emerge as a solid No. 2 option in the offense if used correctly. The Patriots might need to quit it with the swing passes and screens and get the ball in Harry’s hands in a more traditional manner, however.
Newton was 4-of-6 for 55 yards targeting Harry downfield (95.8 passer rating) Sunday night. He was 1-of-3 for 2 yards (42.4 passer rating) on swing passes to Harry and 3-of-3 for 15 yards (87.5 passer rating) on screens.
When a play was specifically designed to get the ball in Harry’s hands, Newton went just 4-of-6 for 17 yards. That’s 4.3 yards per reception and 2.8 yards per target. The Patriots would be better off just running the ball on every one of those snaps.
Harry is a 6-foot-4, 225-pound wide receiver, and while he doesn’t have track speed, he ran a respectable 4.53-second 40-yard dash coming out of Arizona State. That’s one-hundredth of a second slower than Josh Gordon timed coming out of college, and the two receivers are around the same size.
The Patriots had no problem targeting Gordon on slants, posts, comebacks and fades. They should be using Harry on the same types of routes. And in the fourth quarter, that’s exactly how the Patriots were deploying Harry, and he was effective.
Patriots fans should be feeling encouraged by the fact that Newton targeted Harry seven times in the fourth quarter. He hit on four of those passing attempts for 50 yards.
“He’s now lined up in different positions and is able to add some variety to his route tree and the roles on the team that he can perform,” Belichick said about Harry on Monday. “Again, when you throw a pass, it’s not designed to go to one guy, unless it’s a screen pass. That’s just not really the way it works. But, based on the coverages and the way things turned out, he got more opportunities. I’m sure if he continues to be productive, that those opportunities will increase.”
Harry wasn’t the only Patriots receiver who showed promise. Newton also targeted Damiere Byrd nine times and hit on six of those passes for 72 yards. Newton and Byrd do need to work on their timing on quick outs. Newton threw behind Byrd twice on that particular route. One of those passes was intercepted and the other attempt was almost picked off.
Here are the rest of the takeaways from our Week 2 rewatch:
— Newton was an incredible 4-of-4 for 128 yards on deep passes Sunday night, per PFF. He was another 11-of-15 for 167 yards on intermediate passes. Newton was one of only two qualified passers with a 100% adjusted accuracy rate on deep passes Sunday. The other? Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady. That name might sound familiar. He used to play for the Patriots.
— It could be tough sledding for the Patriots’ front seven until nose tackle Beau Allen returns or New England adds another defensive lineman or linebacker. Lawrence Guy and Byron Cowart are getting pushed around up front more than typical Patriots defensive tackles. Linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley also struggled Sunday as the Patriots let up 5.1 yards per carry
— The Patriots’ secondary typically makes things a little more difficult on opposing quarterbacks, but they were actually close in coverage on three of Russell Wilson’s touchdown passes let up by Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty. One of the other two touchdowns was allowed because of some miscommunication between JC Jackson and Jonathan Jones on how to cover wide receiver Tyler Lockett out of the backfield. That allowed Freddie Swain to get free for a touchdown. The final touchdown was allowed by safety Adrian Phillips, who took a false step into the backfield and never recovered as Chris Carson slipped past him and into the end zone for a touchdown catch.
— It’s been a tough start to the season for Sony Michel, who has 17 carries for 56 yards and a dismal 2.5 yards per carry. Rex Burkhead was even worse Sunday from a rushing perspective. Damien Harris is eligible to return Week 4. Unless Michel makes some major strides next week against the Las Vegas Raiders, then Harris should be handed the reins to the backfield. Michel and Burkhead tied ranked for last in PFF’s elusive rating. Neither player forced a missed tackle. Michel averaged 1.86 yards after contact per attempt, while Burkhead averaged 1.5 yards after contact per attempt.
— Here are the Patriots’ pressures allowed, per PFF:
RG Shaq Mason: three hurries
QB Cam Newton: QB hit, hurry
RT Jermaine Eluemunor: hurry
LG Joe Thuney: hurry
LT Isaiah Wynn, center David Andrews and OL Michael Onwenu were clean. Wynn hasn’t let up a pressure through two weeks.
— Here are the Patriots’ pressures, per PFF:
OLB Chase Winovich: sack, two QB hits, three hurries
DT Lawrence Guy: two QB hits, three hurries
DE Deatrich Wise: QB hit, hurry
OLB Shilique Calhoun: sack, hurry
OLB Derek Rivers: sack
CB Jonathan Jones: QB hit
LB Brandon Copeland: QB hit
S Kyle Dugger: hurry
Winovich leads the team with eight pressures in two weeks.
Thumbnail photo via Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports Images