The play of quarterback Cam Newton has been a divisive topic since Thursday night in the scramble to assign blame for the New England Patriots’ 24-3 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
Turn on the tape, and Newton actually didn’t play that poorly despite New England’s anemic offensive performance. Newton’s adjusted completion percentage, a PFF metric that only measures aimed passes, was surprisingly high in the New England Patriots’ 24-3 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
As noted in this week’s takeaways piece, Newton’s adjusted completion rate was 78.6 percent. That does seem pretty decent since Newton went just 9-of-16 for 119 yards with an interception, right?
Newton’s seven incompletions included two drops (both from Damiere Byrd), a throwaway and a batted pass. One of the three unaccounted for incompletions was Newton’s interception, a pick-six by Rams linebacker Kenny Young.
Patriots running back Damien Harris was (legally) held by Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald as Newton was releasing the ball. Harris never got to the spot where Newton’s pass was aimed, so Young had an easy interception and touchdown. The play looked bad. It’s more explainable when you look into the machinations of what went wrong. It was a great play by Donald but a completely understandable throw by Newton. Newton actually has been criticized for not throwing with enough anticipation this season. He threw it where he expected Harris to be, and the running back never got there.
Another one of Newton’s “inaccurate” incompletions was a deep throw to wide receiver N’Keal Harry, who was held by Rams cornerback Troy Hill on the passing attempt. It wasn’t flagged. Newton also threw a wide, errant pass to running back James White on his final drive before being sidelined for backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham.
Newton was under pressure on 43.5 percent of his dropbacks Thursday. He was 2-of-5 for 34 yards with four sacks and a throwaway. Newton also scrambled three times for 16 yards. Stidham also was pressured on two-thirds of his dropbacks Thursday. It was the worst pass-blocking performance of the season by the Patriots’ offensive line, which surrendered six sacks.
Newton also made some of the Patriots offense’s best plays. He evaded a sack on one of his scrambles. He also made good throws to Byrd, Harry and Jakobi Meyers.
Was he good enough? No. But was he also noticeably bad? Not really. Overall, he probably just didn’t have enough chances to play to his strengths as a downfield passer. Newton might simply be a square peg trying to be fit into the Patriots offense’s round hole.
That makes the topic of whether the Patriots should stick with Newton beyond this season a more complicated one. He hasn’t exactly been dealt a fair hand with a dearth of talent in the skill positions and a shortened offseason to learn a complex playbook. It’s OK to think Newton hasn’t been that bad while also believing the Patriots should see what they have in young backup Jarrett Stidham. These aren’t mutually exclusive feelings.
The Patriots definitely had issues protecting Newton. Their run defense was a sieve against Los Angeles Rams rookie running back Cam Akers. The pick-six was a great play by Donald and seriously hurt the Patriots’ chances.
But Newton wasn’t the biggest issue in New England’s Week 14 loss to the Rams. It’s understandable that it appeared that way at the moment, however.