We knew what we were going to get when Cam Newton had the ball in his hands as a runner, and he showed that in the opening win over Miami.
What we didn't know — and it really limited expectations for this offense — was how Newton was going to operate in the passing game. It's all fine and dandy if you can run the read option, and truck a few tacklers. But at some point in time, your team is going to be down two scores and you're going to have to make throws on third down to be a really good offense.
Training camp was shaky for the passing game. You probably only needed two or three fingers to count the numbers of big plays came through the air on the practice fields. And the Dolphins game wasn't much better since Newton only threw the ball more than 10 yards three times, and the only big play passing came on a nifty route adjustment by tight end Ryan Izzo.
At some point, Newton and the passing game was going to have to show some teeth. We figured a final grade would come much later in the season.
Didn't figure the midterm exam would come in Week 2 against Seattle ... and for Newton and the Patriots to pass with flying colors. But that's what happened.
Now, there needs to be some context in all this. This is not your older brother's Legion of Boom Seahawks defense. Seattle has very little pass rush, and plays a lot of zone. So, if Newton was given time (and the pressure rate was only 14.6 percent), he should have been able to complete a lot of passes against this defense.
He did that. But he also made some terrific throws. A look at some of those, along with eight other videos that include analysis (a lot with the issues on defense), my new Kyle Dugger obsession, the positional ratings, pressure charts and 3 up/3 down:
It started on the first drive, and the first third down of the game. The Seahawks were actually in man coverage, and Newton connected with Damiere Byrd for 14 yards. What stood out was that Newton threw the ball before Byrd was out of his break. That's not something we have typically seen from Newton in his NFL career. He's been more of a see-it, throw-it type quarterback, but in this game, he made several throws like that.
The 3rd and 6 pass to Byrd for 7 yards at the start of the second half was a dynamite rocket low and to the outside, where only Byrd could catch it.
The 26-yarder to Edelman over the top of Jamal Adams on the next play showed next-level touch — another trait Newton has seldom shown in his career. He dropped it in a bucket. (And there are some around the team that would question whether Tom Brady would have made that throw last year).
At 5:21 of the third quarter, Newton threw another timing out to Byrd that was excellent, even if it likely baited the hook for the poor interception two plays later.
The coup de grace was the 49-yard pass to Edelman to start the drive down 28-17. Edelman read the safety and skipped over the top of him. Newton read it the same way, and then flicked off a touch pass that was placed perfectly.
Who is this guy and where did he come from?
Oh, and one more special play. The 33-yard pass to Edelman with 3:01 left was a thing of beauty because Newton pumped the post safety toward Byrd on purpose to open up the middle for Edelman, and it was a thing of beauty. That's elite QB play from a player who hasn't really been known as an elite passer.
The pass to Edelman with 36 seconds left was perfect near the sideline. And the throw and catch to Harry with 3 seconds left was also terrific, even though Harry stopped running at full speed across the field.
That being said, not everything was perfect:
- The 4th-down throw that got Harry blasted was a smidge late.
- The 2nd-9 throw to Byrd early in the second, Newton stared down Byrd and was nearly picked off for a touchdown.
- The pass to Edelman at the goal line with 13 seconds left was the ballgame. Newton looked left to set it up, and then just threw high to Edelman. That should have ended the game.
But overall, Newton's performance was both surprising and special. We'll have to see how he and the Patriots fare against more man coverage teams, but what we saw on Sunday was right up there with some of Brady's best throwing days.
In the end, I had Newton for 15 plus plays, and 10 of those were throws — that would also be a great day for Brady. Newton had zero plus throws in the opener.
Nobody should expect that kind of progress from week to week, but for the second game, it was astounding.
Here are the positional ratings against the Seahawks:
Quarterback (4.5 out of 5)
I think we've covered this.
Running backs (2.5 out of 5)
Not much in the running game but that had more to do with the speed and attacking nature of the Seattle defense, which is something you can't really prepare for in practice. You have to play it to understand it. ... Rex Burkhead was a solid late-minute sub for James White in the passing game — and he had a terrific blocking game against the dangerous Adams when he blitzes — but Burkhead seems to have lost some of his burst. That being said, he would have scored on one of his screens if Edelman blocked it.
Receivers (3 out of 5)
Byrd certainly showed that he has a chance in this offense and some of his routes were way better than anything Phillip Dorsett could have done. If Byrd keeps playing faster each week, this could be something. His confidence is also evident on film. ... N'Keal Harry missed a screen block on 2nd-and-2 on a play that could have been a touchdown. ... Ryan Izzo continues to have issues blocking. He gets tossed around. ... Has anyone seen Devin Asiasi at all? That they haven't even dialed up one single shot play for him tells me he's not in the gameplan through two weeks, and that's an issue. ... Edelman had a lot of issues blocking in this game, but that happens when you're beat up. But I'm not sure how much more they can do to help him. It's obvious they're trying to limit his snaps. Getting Gunner Olszewski back would help a bit.
Offensive line (3 out of 5)
A very good game pass blocking for this unit, but a 33.3 stuff percentage is poor. ... Isaiah Wynn had by far the most trouble with seven negative plays. He seemed to have some issues with the speed and physicality of the Seahawks. Judging by the Patriots' lack of a pass rush and struggles on the edge, I doubt Wynn is seeing much competition in practice. ... Both Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason had their issues for the second-straight week. ... Jermaine Eluemunor got off to a terrible start but rebounded. ... What's funny is that Michael Onwenu had a great block on the same play as the final one earlier in the game. ... Order of effectiveness: David Andrews, Eluemunor, Thuney, Mason, Wynn, Onwenu.
Defensive line (2.5 out of 5)
Last year, I could have counted on this unit to be close to five stars every week. On Sunday night, they were largely pushed around by a much bigger and physical Seahawks line than we've see in the past. Everyone had their issues in this group, even Lawrence Guy, who led the way with eight plus plays, but also missed the tackle on a would-be sack and got shoved out of his gap a few times. It's a tough chore for anyone to stand up to a double team from LT Duane Brown and LG Mike Iupati, who weigh nearly 700 combined pounds. ... I'd say probably the biggest disappointment, which hung the linebackers and safeties out to dry was the terrible edge work. I counted seven blown edges: John Simon 3, Chase Winovich 2, Shilique Calhoun 1, Derek Rivers 1. ... Winovich had another productive day, but I'm starting to wonder if he might be a better option at ILB.
Linebackers (1 out of 5)
Ja'Whaun Bentley had a few nice plays in the running game, but he got exposed in space the more the game went on. At one point it looked like the Seahawks were trying to get him matched up on a running back in coverage. ... Brandon Copeland had only a half QB hit, and Anfernee Jennings played just two snaps. ... The Patriots need to find some answers in this group.
Secondary (1.5 out of 5)
Kyle Dugger jumped off the film in this one. Here are two videos to highlight what I saw:
Outside of Dugger and his five impactful plays with zero errors, this unit was rough since they didn't have long yardage on second or third down to help them. Plus, I think Brian Schottenheimer spent most of quarantine just dreaming up new plays to use against the Patriots because I think several of their TDs — and only one came in the red zone — caught a well-schooled Patriots secondary by surprise.
D.K. Metcalf TD that burned Stephon Gilmore and Devin McCourty:
This is just bad defense:
Game-winning TD to Carson was just a straight bust and I'm not sure who gets the blame:
This is why you can't just play safeties at linebacker all the time:
QB Cam Newton: Wasn't perfect and he'll have to beat tougher defenses, but there was some outstanding play in this game.
C David Andrews: Very nearly a clean sheet. Led the way for a line that didn't allow much pressure.
S Kyle Dugger: He looks like a panther stalking his prey when he blitzes from the second level. He should be the Patriots' version of Jamal Adams at some point.
CB Jason McCourty: Why is he starting over JC Jackson? Why is allowed to give up two touchdowns? If McCourty is better than Jackson, then you should trade Gilmore and just let both McCourty and Jackson start.
CB Stephon Gilmore: Two games, two appearances in the Bottom 3 for the $5 Million Man. Gilmore has gotten pushed around two weeks in a row. He should have a more favorable matchup vs. the Raiders.
LT Isaiah Wynn: Not a terrible game out of him, but two pressures and five negative running plays are a lot.