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Point After: Cam Newton, Patriots are going to need options vs. bad boxes – sooner rather than later

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(Adam Richins for BSJ)

The coaches' film was not available when we did our Breakdown on Monday. Here are some other takeaways from the opener after viewing the film.

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One of the tenets of the Patriots' offense has always been very simple: don't run bad plays.

Tom Brady, with 20-plus years in the system, was brilliant at it. With so much experience and involvement in the expansion of the scheme (it was a short novel under Charlie Weiss ... Josh McDaniels made it the Harry Potter box set), Brady could wield the different tools at his disposal at will. And there were plenty. Basically, from checks to audibles to calling new plays out of cloth, Brady had full control at the line of scrimmage. And he did a tremendous job. Very rarely did you watch a Patriots play and say, "Well, that had no chance to be successful against that defense."

That's the goal, to limit how many times that can happen.

That did not happen on Sunday against the Dolphins. Yes, the Patriots won 21-11 and, considering it was Cam Newton's first-ever game in a system he's been learning for about six weeks, it was pretty good. And it was.

But the Patriots ran at least eight plays into what, in football vernacular, would be described as a "bad box" — either by alignment or just being outmanned. Outside of a 12-yard scramble by Newton, the plays were not all that successful.

It appeared Newton was given very little ability to change or check the play at the line — and one time when he did make an adjustment, it actually hurt the play.

That's fine for Week 1 against the Dolphins, a rebuilding team with many different pieces on defense. It will not be OK in Week 12 ... or possibly on Sunday night in Seattle against a very experienced and fast Seahawks defense.

It sounds like it's in the plans for Newton to gain more control of the offense as the season advances.

"What we asked Cam to do in that game is what he did," said QBs coach Jedd Fisch, "and I think as he continues to become more and more comfortable and continues to have more and more experience in this system and what we’re asking him to do, I would assume there would be more, call it tools in the toolbox, that he’ll be able to get to, get to quick, and be able go out there and execute, and really try to continue to improve. The one thing that Josh has continued to emphasize and one thing that Coach Belichick has continued to emphasize, that was Week 1 and our growth from Week 1 to Week 2 will indicate how much better we’ve got in these seven days and we need to continue to make sure we get better and continue to add to his toolbox, add to his repertoire and really make sure that we can do a great job of helping him and our whole offense."

Let's look at some of the plays, and the issues that could arise if the Patriots don't build in options for Newton:

The idea on any running play is to have "hat on a hat" — as many blockers for potential box defenders — unless they're overloaded and you can exploit the weakness. With the defense having to count Newton on some plays due to his running ability, the Patriots can sometimes get away with one more rusher than blockers.

2ND & 7 AT MIA 32( 10:58)
(10:58) (Shotgun) J.White left guard to MIA 31 for 1 yard (C.Wilkins).

Dolphins in box: 8
Patriots blockers: 6

This actually could be a triple option for a big play — if Newton flips a pass to N'Keal Harry in motion — but because of the Dolphins' blitz, he can't get to it and has to give the ball to James White.

Possible future check: Newton brings Ryan Izzo and Julian Edelman into the line on the right side to help with the blocking and it gives Newton time to run a fake to White and flip a pass in right flat to Harry, who doesn't even think about blocking here.

What Brady would do: He'd spread the receivers out, possibly put White in motion to receiver, and then throw quickly to the best matchup, possibly a step-back screen.

2ND & 10 AT NE 25(03:50)
(3:50) J.Taylor up the middle to NE 29 for 4 yards (C.Wilkins, J.Baker).

Dolphins in box: 8
Patriots blockers: 8 (including Harry)

This isn't terrible, and JJ Taylor does a nice job to get something with some decent blocking.

Possible future check: Newton spreads Harry out to the right and throws a slant to Harry or Damiere Byrd — maybe a go to Byrd.

What Brady would do: Same.

2ND & 5 AT MIA 48(05:16)
(5:16) (Shotgun) C.Newton pass short right to N.Harry to MIA 43 for 5 yards (E.Rowe)

Dolphins in box: 6
Patriots blockers: 6 (including JJ Taylor, who gets tossed).

This is one of the few plays where Newton actually makes an adjustment — he keeps Jakobi Meyers from going in motion to the other side of the field and sends him back to the right for a three-wide set. This actually made the play less successful. If Meyers goes to the other side of the field, that would leave Harry with much more room to run a slant against man coverage with no safety help — it would be Edelman and Harry in a 2 on 2 situation. Instead, two defensive backs converge and stop Harry with no YAC.

Possible future check: Don't change the play.

What Brady would do: Brady might have changed the play to a pick, either for Edelman or Harry. With no deep safety, this should have been a TD.

 

1ST & 10 AT MIA 37(10:03)
(10:03) (Shotgun) C.Newton pass incomplete short right to J.Edelman.

Dolphins in box: 7
Patriots blockers: 6 (including White)

This play had no chance and nearly resulted in an interception. Patriots still tried to pull Joe Thuney and have a run fake. No time for any of that.

Possible future check: With the corners playing off, check to a quick screen — slip, step-back (Byrd) or tunnel. Just have to get rid of the ball.

What Brady would do: Check to a quick screen.

 

3RD & 3 AT MIA 30(09:13)
(9:13) (Shotgun) R.Burkhead up the middle to MIA 26 for 4 yards (J.Baker, Br.Jones).

Dolphins in box: 8
Patriots blockers: 6 (including Burkhead)

This running play only worked because Isaiah Wynn had a great drive block.

Possible future check: Should have tossed the ball out to Harry on the same play where he got knocked back by the cornerback.

What Brady would do: He would have thrown a go to Byrd to try for a big play.

1ST & 10 AT MIA 26(08:36)
(8:36) C.Newton scrambles left end ran ob at MIA 14 for 12 yards (J.Baker).
Dolphins in box: 8
Patriots blockers: 7.
Newton saves this play by scrambling for 12 yards.

Possible future check: Move the receivers to give them wide splits and throw a slant to Harry.

What Brady would do: Same.

2ND & 5 AT MIA 9(07:08)
(7:08) (Shotgun) C.Newton left guard to MIA 10 for -1 yards (K.Van Noy).
Dolphins in box: 7
Patriots blockers: 6 (including Taylor).
The called QB draw has no chance for success due to the numbers.

Possible future check: When Edelman goes in motion to the right, his route changes to a step-back screen and he probably scores a touchdown.

What Brady would do: Same.

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As you can see, the Patriots often made something out of nothing in this game, thanks to a team in the Dolphins that was pretty shaky on defense. That will not hold against better defenses, like the Seahawks.

I would expect the Patriots to build in a few options tagged on to a few select plays — one that they showed against the Dolphins. And then progress from there.

If not, Sunday could get choppy.

Other offensive notes from that game:

First quarter

  • Powerful block by Michael Onwenu on first play of the game on Elandon Roberts
  • Some good, tough yards by Sony Michel on the first drive. Not much there.
  • Not only was Cam Newton's first pass to Julian Edelman high, but it was late. Could have been thrown as Edelman was coming out of his break. Still a drop. Damiere Byrd easily covered.
  • On 3rd and 19 checkdown, Newton should have thrown it to N'Keal Harry on a crosser. Newton hit late, should have been a penalty.

Second quarter

  • On the Newton sack on 3rd and 6, Newton could have kept the play alive and thrown a ball up for Damiere Byrd.

  • On deflected first-down pass to Harry, Newton made it easy on the lineman by staring down Harry the entire time.
  • On 3rd and 6 run by White, Patriots had numbers but Shaq Mason and Harry didn't have optimal blocks.
  • Mason stuff on 2nd and 10 and 2-yard loss by Newton.
  • On 2nd and 12, the tackles cut the ends to indicate a quick pass in the flat, but Newton threw a dangerous ball to Izzo that was lucky to be tipped. Ball should have gone to Burkhead.

Third quarter

Think that's about it for new things that stood out, outside of this:

https://twitter.com/GregABedard/status/1306650125142577153

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