How Will the Patriots Handle Tight End Darren Waller?

While Cam Newton has improved from the pocket throughout his career, he is at his best when he can be a dual threat and use his legs. And that’s exactly how the Patriots have been using him in 2020. 15 carries in Week 1. 11 carries in Week 2. There were times in Carolina where it seemed the Panthers were more concerned with elongating Newton’s career by taking an approach that kept him healthy instead of taking advantage of his unique skillset. You can’t entirely blame them for that approach. In New England, the thinking is more short term, at least for now. And that has allowed Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick to focus on maximizing their use of Newton’s abilities each week. This often means using him as a battering ram in short yardage and goalline situations. So far, it’s been extremely effective and very fun to watch.

On Sunday in Foxborough, however, the more interesting matchup will be when the Raiders have the ball. We expected to see a break-out year for the Raiders Offense in 2020. So far, they haven’t disappointed. Jon Gruden has found ways to consistently get his receivers open against zone or man. Against New England, you can bet they’ll see lots of man coverage. The question is, how will the Patriots account for the different types of weapons Las Vegas has?

Tight end Darren Waller will be the toughest matchup for the Patriots. We’ve seen Belichick use cornerbacks to cover athletic tight ends in the past. Back in 2013, when tight end Jimmy Graham was in his prime, Belichick had cornerback Aqib Talib follow him all over the field. In more recent years, we’ve seen Belichick use cornerback J.C. Jackson on tight end Travis Kelce (think back to the 2018 AFC Championship Game).

Easier said than done, though. Waller has elite speed for a tight end. And we were able to see him use it to run away from a cornerback last week vs. New Orleans.

Screen Shot Courtesy of Gamepass

Henry Ruggs won’t play on Sunday due to injury. The Raiders do have plenty of other weapons in Hunter Renfrow, Bryan Edwards, and running back Josh Jacobs. But the loss of Ruggs is a big one because of his ability to stretch the field and open things up at the intermediate levels. With him gone, the Patriots can focus more of their attention on Waller.

I anticipate New England going back and forth between using Jackson to cover Waller 1-on-1 and bringing help from different locations (using disguise of course) to double-team him in select situations. They can then use Stephon Gilmore to take away rookie Bryan Edwards and perhaps throw in the occasional 3rd-down bracket on Renfrow.

Our Prediction: After a rough week in Seattle where the Patriots’ secondary got torched in man coverage, New England bounces back with an approach that limits the Raiders’ banged-up offense, handing them their first loss of the season.

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