Through two games, the Cam Newton Experience went about as well as the Patriots could have hoped.
Newton carried the offense with his legs in the opening win over the Dolphins. Against the Seahawks, his right arm came alive as he showed his passing prowess, and the Patriots came up 1 yard short — and a better pass to Julian Edelman a few plays earlier — from leaving Seattle 2-0.
The Patriots beat the Raiders 36-20 on Sunday at Gillette, but this was a far different game. The Patriots basically got no help from Newton and had to use a revitalized running game and multiple mistakes by Vegas and QB Derek Carr to improve to 2-1.
Maybe the silver lining is the Patriots showed a third way they can win — without Newton being Superman. But the list of NFL teams that can win consistently against good competition without efficient play from their quarterback is few and far between.
So the Patriots, who now face a daunting stretch of games against the Chiefs, 49ers, Bills, Ravens, Texans and Cardinals in the next two months, are going to need a more consistent Newton throwing the ball. So it's worthwhile to try to target the reasons for Newton's struggles.
That discussion, plus analysis videos, positioning ratings, pressure charts and 3 up/3 down are below for BSJ members...
In the first half alone, Newton had one plus play — a nice throw and decision to Edelman on a crosser — and nine negative plays in the first half alone. A breakdown of the negative plays: five poor decisions, interception (decision), a poor throw behind N'Keal Harry, a half-sack on third down, and a hurry.
The good news? Newton was better in the second half with two plus plays — his 27-yard throw to Harry was terrific and under pressure, a nice screen — and just two negative plays (run stuff and a decision to Edelman).
But just about every third down for the Patriots in this game was poor, with Newton mostly to blame. A look at some of the issues:
3RD & 6 AT NE 29 (13:41) (Shotgun) C.Newton pass incomplete short middle to J.Edelman (T.Mullen).
I didn't have a huge issue with this play — no one was definitely open — but Jakobi Meyers may have been the better choice in the second window since Newton had good protection.
3RD & 5 AT NE 27 (10:26) (Shotgun) C.Newton pass short left to R.Burkhead to NE 30 for 3 yards (N.Morrow).
Never saw a completely uncovered Harry underneath, and wound up throwing late to Burkhead in the flat.
3RD & 8 AT NE 37 (8:26) (Shotgun) C.Newton sacked at NE 36 for -1 yards (M.Crosby).
Never sees a wide-open Izzo on a deep dig.
3-8-NE 29 (2:08) (Shotgun) C.Newton pass short right intended for R.Burkhead INTERCEPTED by J.Abram at NE 38. J.Abram to NE 14 for 24 yards (S.Mason)
This is one of the worst QB plays I've ever seen. Has a great pocket. Has two open underneath checkdowns right off the bat. He has a receiver wide open behind the defense left. And when he flushes right, both checkdowns are open. And when he does decide to throw it, Newton doesn't see a buck-naked Devin Asiasi behind Burkhead.
3RD & 10 AT LV 15(12:39) (Shotgun) C.Newton pass incomplete short left to N.Harry.
Edelman and Izzo are open. Decision to Harry isn't bad, but the throw is late and inaccurate.
3RD & 5 AT LV 5 (8:04) (Shotgun) C.Newton pass incomplete short right to J.Edelman (C.Nassib).
3RD & 11 AT LV 14 (2:08) (Shotgun) C.Newton right guard to LV 14 for no gain (D.Ross).
This is just a busted play where Newton gives it up. Disappointing in the red zone.
So why did he struggle? A look at some of the questions that came out of this.
Did the Raiders do something different that Newton wasn't expecting?
Not really. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther mixed up coverages a bit to start, but it wasn't anything terribly exotic.
Were the Patriots receivers just not getting open?
I think we just laid out that was definitely not the case. People aren't going to be open all the time, but there were definitely plays to be made and Newton left them on the table.
Was it Newton being more under center? Was he just uncomfortable?
I thought this was possibly it, but the numbers don't bear that out.
I went to sharpfootball.com and looked at some of the splits. The first shows play percentages under center and in shotgun for the first three games, along with the passing success rate. Newton was under center just as much and the Patriots had a better passing success rate (one possible difference: Dolphins played almost all man, and Raiders were more zone).
The Patriots' passing game was more productive against the Seahawks out of the shotgun, but the success rate wasn't as high.
I thought Newton passed more from under center — because Joe Thuney was a new center — but that also wasn't the case. When the Patriots passed out of shotgun, the success rate was much lower than Seattle.
So was the Seattle game just fools' gold for the passing offense?
Right now, yes. The Seahawks have allowed 430.7 yards of passing per game — that's 80 yards more than the next team, the Falcons. Seattle has allowed the most passing yards in NFL history through three games — eclipsing the mark of the trainwreck 2011 Patriots secondary of Antwaun Molden, Phillip Adams, Josh Barrett, Sergio Brown, and James Ihedigbo. Everyone and possibly their mothers are throwing on the Seahawks right now.
Maybe it was just a bad day at the office?
This is where I'm leaning. Sometimes, you just don't process things clearly. It happens to every single quarterback. Maybe it was a combination of things, starting with Newton being uncomfortable with the switch at center. Maybe the protection was too good — maybe Newton needs to get hit earlier to wake up. It's also possible that defenses will be more prepared for Newton and the Patriots with every game of film they have.
I do think it was a good sign that Newton pulled out a great play with his 27-yard pass to Harry under pressure late. Sometimes that's all it takes.
Quarterback (1 out of 5)
I think we covered this, but here's another way to illustrate how much Newton struggled in this game. NexGenStats has a number of expected completion percentage based on the defense and how tight the coverage was. Newton exceeded his expected completion percentage by 2.2 percent the first two games. In Week 3, Newton plummeted to -4.8 and 28th in the league — where he was surrounded by some iffy quarterbacks.
Running backs (5 out of 5)
I'm not sure I've seen a running back group for the Patriots play a better collective game. Usually one or two guys pop. This time is was all four, including Jakob Johnson. The group totaled 17 plus plays — Rex Burkhead (seven), Sony Michel (six), JJ Taylor (four) — and just three negative plays: Johnson stuffed run block, Taylor dropped screen, Burkhead screen read.
Receivers (2.5 out of 5)
Complete mixed bag out of this group, thanks to subpar QB play. ... Devin Asiasi actually got into the mix a little bit more, but he didn't exactly blow defenders away on his route. Plus, he had two poor run blocks. Maybe the PT is a sign that he might actually be thrown the ball at some point here very soon.
Offensive line (4 out of 5)
Weird game for this group. There were a fair amount of negative plays, but there were way more positive blocks than normal. ... Center Joe Thuney led the way. He looked like a natural at center to the point you hardly ever noticed him. He had just one minor run blocking error and that was it. He was by far the best offensive lineman — no matter what PFF is smoking. ... Isaiah Wynn was probably next, and then it's very close between Jermaine Eluemunor, Michael Onwenu and Shaq Mason. That's probably the order I would go with. But, really, it's Thuney, Wynn and then the three of them together. ... For anyone to say Onewnu was the best LG in football in Week 3, they're crazy. He was really good, but he did allow a half sack, knockdown, stuffed run and had a poor screen block.
Defensive line (4.5 out of 5)
This unit got off to a bit of a rough start against the physical Raiders' line, but equal parts Gruden going away from the run, the scoreboard tilting to the Patriots in the second half, and the Patriots making some nice adjustments, this unit took control in the second half. ... In the first half, the Patriots had nine plus plays and four negative plays. In the second, it was 13 and 2. ... Chase Winovich, Deatrich Wise and Shilique Calhoun dominated the tackles of the Raiders, with the groups seemingly aiming to get into the chest of LT Kolten Miller. ... Wise and Calhoun had among their best games as Patriots. ... Lawrence Guy continues to be dominant but could use a running mate.
Linebackers (1 out of 5)
Ja'Whaun Bentley had a rough time hitting the Raiders' plays on time. The Raiders could have taken more advantage of him in the passing game. ... Brandon Copeland was late on the goal line passing TD. ... Patriots tried everyone as the box safety, from Adrian Phillips to Kyle Dugger, and finally went to Terrence Brooks full-time to start the second half and his tackling ability and toughest was an asset.
Secondary (2.5 out of 5)
Almost an equal split between good and bad with this group, and a better QB would have punished them more. ... Devin McCourty had two pass breakups as he was more active for a Patriots free safety in some time. He'll need to be against the Chiefs. ... Jonathan Jones had no chance on the 27-yarder by Zay Jones. The two-way go is rough and John Simon helped to pick him. ... Stephon Gilmore will need to be the DPOY vs. KC. His PI before halftime was inexcusable.
RB Rex Burkhead: Was a terrific playmaker in this game and has filled his role as backup and role player perfectly.
C Joe Thuney: Allowed zero pressures in his first start at center and totally controlled the line.
DEs Deatrich Wise/Shilique Calhoun: They were both equally as good setting the edge and creating pressure and they owned the Raiders OTs.
QB Cam Newton: He was basically luggage for a half for whatever reason.
LB Ja'Whaun Bentley: Was often late and slow on reads, but he's not getting a lot of help.
TE Devin Asiasi: Actually played but Newton didn't look his way — if I didn't know better, I'd say it was on purpose — and had some rough run blocks.