Patriots Played It Safe But Effective With Cam Newton As Passer

Cam Newton didn't throw a single inaccurate pass in Week 1

Quarterback Cam Newton was so impressive with his legs in the Patriots’ season opener that his prowess as a passer went unheralded after New England’s 21-11 win over the Miami Dolphins.

The Patriots updated their Erhardt-Perkins offense to include option looks all while Newton completed 15-of-19 passes for 155 yards.

Newton and the Patriots were conservative throwing the ball with just one deep pass and three in the intermediate part of the field, but New England’s new starter didn’t throw a single unforced inaccurate ball all game.

Wide receiver Julian Edelman dropped one pass. Two of Newton’s attempts were batted at the line of scrimmage. Another incompletion came when Newton was under pressure and threw the ball away in the direction of Edelman. Newton threw one more incompletion that was called back by a roughing the passer penalty. That misfire also came while Newton was under pressure, and he sailed the ball deep and away from Edelman.

Overall, Newton was 2-of-2 behind the line of scrimmage, 10-of-13 from 0-to-10 yards, 3-of-3 in the intermediate part of the field and 0-of-1 from 20 yards plus.

PFF ranked Newton as the third-most accurate passer in the NFL on Sunday behind Russell Wilson and Gardner Minshew, according to their adjusted completion percentage metric. The only reason they didn’t rate him as being perfect is that they didn’t agree Edelman dropped a pass. To our eyes, the ball hit Edelman in the chest, and he dropped it after contact from a defender.

Other notes from our Dolphins-Patriots Week 1 rewatch:

— The Patriots had success on option runs with 59 yards on 11 plays. The Patriots also picked up 158 yards on 31 non-option runs. The Dolphins should have seen the Patriots’ offensive gameplan coming from a mile away, but New England was perpetually able to pick up chunk yards on the ground.

— Rookie running back J.J. Taylor showed impressive power when he picked up 28 yards — 15 of which came after contact, per PFF — on four carries. At 5-foot-5, 185 pounds, the strength of Taylor’s game in college at Arizona was his ability to barrel through defenders, but there were questions about how that would translate to the pros. So far, so good.

— Patriots offensive linemen only allowed two pressures all game, per PFF’s charting. Center David Andrews gave up a sack while rookie offensive lineman Michael Onwenu allowed a hurry.

Andrews’ sack came on a tough block as he had to immediately shade to his left to compensate for blitzing linebacker Jerome Baker as left guard Joe Thuney pulled to his right. Newton probably would have audibled out of the play call when Baker showed blitz.

Overall, it was a very positive performance for players like Onwenu and right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor who both were viewed as question marks entering the game given their inexperience in the Patriots’ offense.

— The Patriots’ defense generated just nine pressures all game, per PFF:

LB Ja’Whaun Bentley: two hurries
OLB John Simon: QB hit, hurry
OLB Chase Winovich: QB hit, hurry
OLB Derek Rivers: sack
DE Deatrich Wise: hurry
SS/LB Adrian Phillips: hurry

— Patriots defensive backs played all over the field Sunday.

— Phillips spent 37 snaps at linebacker and six at safety, per PFF.
— Rookie Kyle Dugger played linebacker, free and strong safety and some cornerback.
— Jonathan Jones played slot cornerback and both safety spots.
— Terrence Brooks played both safety spots and in the box as a linebacker.
— Stephon Gilmore and JC Jackson both played slot and wide cornerback.
— Joejuan Williams primarily played in the slot defending tight end Mike Gesicki but also played wide cornerback.
— Devin McCourty primarily played free safety but also spent time in the box and at cornerback.
— Jason McCourty was one of the most versatile players on the field, playing 18 snaps in the box, 13 at wide corner, 11 in the slot and four at free safety. McCourty filled Duron Harmon’s old free safety role, sharing the deep part of the field with Devin McCourty, on third and long situations.

You can check out the Patriots’ coverage stats here.

— Winovich led the team with three run stops, per PFF. Bentley, defensive tackle Adam Butler, Phillips and linebacker Brandon Copeland each had two run stops as the Patriots limited the Dolphins to just 3.2 yards per carry.

— It’s time to talk about N’Keal Harry. The bad: Harry went down too easily after catching a swing pass, failing to run hard through Dolphins undersized cornerback — and former Patriots practice squad member — Jamal Perry. Harry also fumbled through the end zone after a catch a run, leading to a turnover.

The good: Harry set personal highs with five catches and 39 receiving yards in Week 1.

If the Patriots’ goal is to get the ball to Harry in space to pick up yards after the catch, then he needs to run hard and avoid turnovers. If he can’t do that, then they need to figure out a way to make his targets more efficient, be that on crossers, fades, slants or go’s.

Harry is a 6-foot-4, 225-pound wide receiver who’s averaging just 8.5 yards per reception in his career. That’s insanity. In fact, only six wide receivers who are 6-foot-2 or taller with at least 10 receptions have averaged fewer yards per reception in NFL history: John Shirk, Jim Tyree, Justin Brown, Braxton Miller, Joe Webb and Hal Shoener. Shirk, Tyree and Shoener played in the 1940s. Miller and Webb are converted quarterbacks. Brown was selected in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the PIttsburgh Steelers and lasted one season.

Harry is a first-round pick.

Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images

Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images

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