The best coaches play to their top player’s strengths instead of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
It’s no surprise, then, that Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels would completely overhaul their offense to best suit Cam Newton after 20 years of employing Tom Brady at quarterback. The run-heavy offense with a bevy of zone reads and QB-keepers provided an offensive revolution in New England’s 21-11 win over Miami on Sunday.
“We always try to do what’s best for the team to win,” Belichick said Monday, “Everything we’ve done for the last 20 years, and rightfully so, has been for Tom Brady, it was for Tom Brady. Everything was dedicated to him, other than the games that he didn’t play in, like when (Matt) Cassel played, or Jimmy (Garoppolo) and then Jacoby (Brissett) when Brady was suspended. So you know there were times when he had to plan differently.”
Newton owns a different skill set than Brady. The 2015 NFL MVP’s ability to pound the rock allows the Pats to be even more ground-focused than they were at times with Brady.
“When your starting quarterback has things that he’s good at or things that you can take advantage of, then I think you try to take advantage of them,” Belichick noted.
Newton led the Patriots in rushing Sunday, taking 15 carries for 75 yards and two rushing TDs. The 15 rushes were the most by a QB under Belichick (even more than those outlier Brissett games in 2016), and were the second-most of Newton’s career (17 in 2014 in a tie vs. Cincinnati).
On the whole, the Patriots rushed the ball a whopping 42 times for 217 yards, averaging 5.2 YPC, with three rushing TDs.
It wasn’t just straight runs from McDaniels either. With Newton under center, the Pats used a bevy of play actions and zone reads to keep Miami off balance. New England ran the ball or used play-action on 82.5 percent of offensive plays (52 of 63).
After being the only team without a read-option rush in 2019 under Brady, the Patriots had 10 rushes for 49 yards on read options in Week 1, per Pro Football Focus.
New England did damage inside and outside. Per NextGen Stats, the Pats compiled 20 rushes for 98 yards and a TD on inside-the-tackle runs. (4.9 yards/rush). On outside rushes, they compiled 120 yards on 21 carries with 2 TDs. NE ran on 21 of 33 shotgun snaps (63.6 percent, averaged 4.9 yards/rush).
As for Newton’s hefty workload carrying the ball, Belichick didn’t sound worried.
“Some of those runs were option type runs. We don’t know who’s going to get the ball,” he noted, via NFL Network’s Mike Giardi.
With the run a constant threat, Newton pegged darts over the middle when he did throw, completing 78.9 percent of his passes. The Pats didn’t ask him to throw deep down the sideline or into traffic. The mix of QB runs and passes ushers in a new era in New England with a plethora of possibilities.
How McDaniels’ offense evolves when teams bulk up to slow Newton’s running ability will be interesting to watch as the season progresses. It could be the ultimate case of a team switching up its plan on a week-to-week basis based on the opponent.
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