For two decades, the lifeblood of the Patriots Offense was the precision of their passing game with Tom Brady under center. Cam Newton can do things that Brady can’t, like run off tackle and take on 250-pound linebackers or make power throws downfield to the outside. Precision has never been a part of his game, though. Neither has timing. During the last two weeks, these issues have been exacerbated, leading to two terrible offensive performances, and now a 2-4 record.
Last week, we wrote about how Cam struggled to get rid of the ball on time against the Broncos and how that hurt the Patriots down the stretch. In Week 7 against the 49ers, Cam had a similar lack of urgency while working through his reads. This was at the heart of his and the offense’s issues.
The below play was a great example. First, look at the route concept.
This was a 3-level stretch designed to open up the intermediate area. And it did just that. You can see both the safety and corner running with the post route and the flat defender jumping the flat route.
At this exact moment in the play, Newton should have started his throwing motion, ready to fire the ball to the wide-open deep-over route. He took too long to recognize and move to the open man, though. This enabled the pass rush to become a factor and impact the throw.
From the end zone angle, you can see the pressure at Newton’s feet prevented him from completely transferring his weight and following through on his delivery.
If that ball is out earlier and on time, however, the throw isn’t affected. The Patriots did get a roughing the passer penalty as a consolation prize, but this could have been much more.
Newton’s lack of urgency moving through his reads continued throughout the afternoon. On the below 1st down, the Patriots utilized play-action. You can make the argument that Newton should have planted his back foot and delivered the ball to Jakobi Meyers right out of his break.
Newton may have been concerned that the middle linebacker underneath was too much of a factor. If that was the case, fine. But then he should have come down quickly to those underneath routes, which were wide open. He didn’t.
Again, this was 1st-and-10. You have to be ready to take those positive yards and keep the offense on schedule. Newton never got to those routes, though, his eyes seemingly glued downfield. The pass rush inevitably broke through, forcing him to flee the pocket and throw the ball away.
This might seem like a non-descript play in the middle of a blow-out loss, but these easy yards on first down are so critical for the Patriots. From the book of obvious statements, you have more options if the distance to go on 2nd and 3rd down is shorter than if it’s longer. This is especially important for Newton since utilizing him on the ground is such a critical part of his game. The more his legs can be a factor or a threat, the more effective he can be. 2nd or 3rd-and-longs negate that.
Newton’s final interception had more of the same when it came to moving through his reads. On this play, Cam looked to the seam to his left initially, but the deep-middle safety was taking that route away pretty immediately. Again, Cam took too long to move off of it and come down to Julian Edelman in the middle. Again, that allowed the pass rush to become a factor in the throw.
Because of the pass rush, Newton wasn’t able to move his feet with his eyes and stay in good position to make this throw, which contributed to the poor ball placement. But had he come off that seam route sooner, which was dead early in the play, he would have had the opportunity to move his feet in Edelman’s direction, set, and have more control over the throw.
You can get a better view of this from the end zone angle. Watch his head stay to the left for a second too long before coming back to his right. And watch how his feet never went to the right.
With Newton’s feet out of position, he wasn’t able to come over the top with his motion and the ball sailed.
Everything that could go wrong did go wrong for Newton and the Patriots against the 49ers. The plays above show some of the missed opportunities that kept New England from staying on the field to create more chances for themselves. But there were plenty of others. At times, Newton pressed and forced throws that simply weren’t there, like on his first interception, which brought the Patriots Defense back on the field after just one play. He also missed an open receiver on 3rd-and-5 in the 2nd quarter, again giving the ball back to San Francisco.
It’s never a good idea to doubt Bill Belichick. He makes in-season adjustments better than any head coach ever has. There’s no doubt that the limited and scattered practice time in recent weeks impacted his ability to coach his players up and make some necessary adjustments.
That said, the Patriots have a 6-9 record in their last 15 games going back to 2019. This includes a 4-5 record with Brady at the helm, and that was before we saw New England lose significant talent due to free agency and Covid-19 opt-outs. It’s very possible that the lack of talent in so many areas is finally becoming too much to overcome, even for the greatest head coach of all time.
It’s getting late early in New England for the first time in forever. If this week’s game against the 5-2 Bills isn’t a must win, I’m not sure what is.
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