Patriots Come Out Running and Running …
Welcome back to football, the regular season is finally upon us and we can talk about real football and sit back and enjoy the games. And there were plenty of them to watch this weekend.
The Patriots and Dolphins both went through big changes in the offseason. Week 1 was about as big a mystery as one could have. We didn’t see either team in a preseason game so there was an added element, even if Week 1 is traditionally one where there are some surprises.
We got a chance to go back and rewatch, and rewind the game a bit and there is room for optimism coupled with a reality check that ..yes, it IS only Week 1. But the Patriots didn’t look like a team that had so many changes… More to that below.
So, check out our grades and we’ll take one more look at the game film before moving on to Seattle on Sunday Night Football next week.
Cam Newton was in control and had a much better grasp of the offense than we thought he’d have for someone who was here for such a short time prior to opening training camp. Newton had the look (albeit for one game) of the Newton that was getting MVP support a few years ago.
He rushed 14 times for 76 yards before a kneel-down to end the game and completed 15 of 19 passes for 155 yards. The offense was balanced and he was making nearly the correct read every time. And the read-option, as well as the play-action passing he conducted, were extremely productive.
When using play-action, he completed 7-8 for 90 yards and was sacked once. The only incompletion was the drop/PBU to Julian Edelman on his first pass. We’ll be nitpicky here and say it could have been delivered a tad earlier. Two of his other passes were knocked down at the line. Accuracy? Check. Going through his progressions? Check.
Running Backs: B+
The Patriots offense rolled up 217 yards on the ground with Newton accounting for 75 of those yards and Julian Edelman 23 more. The running backs took the rest while chipping in four catches for 34 yards. Can the Patriots running game sustain this type of game plan with Newton running this much every week? Doubtful, they’ll have to get the passing game more involved as they move down the road.
Balance. We mentioned it above and it fits perfectly here. Look at the snap counts for the running backs on Sunday against the Dolphins. FB Jakob Johnson led the way with 21, then Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, and James White all had 19 snaps while rookie J.J. Taylor got his first game action with nine snaps. That is about as balanced as you can imagine.
None of the backs had a “wow” type of game, but every one of them contributed and performed well. Collectively they rushed 26 times for 119 yards which averages out to 4.57 yards per rushing attempt. The rookie Taylor comes as advertised and has some excitement when he gets the ball in his hands.
Wide Receivers: C
Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry were the only WRs targeted yesterday. Edelman was used sparingly for him, playing in less than 60 percent of the snaps. Other than the early incompletion that he might have had, it looked like a vintage Edelman performance totaling 80 yards on six touches.
Newton decided to get Harry more involved in the passing game in the second half and on one drive, targeted him four times. Harry responded with four catches but he didn’t secure the ball at the one-yard line and fumbled the ball through the end zone. Those are the kind of mistakes, that will drive the coaches wild.
Damiere Byrd led all receivers with 56 snaps but wasn’t targeted once. Jakobi Meyers played only seven snaps.
Tight Ends: B-
Ryan Izzo played nearly every snap and did a good job in the running game. He also chipped in with a 25-yard pass reception down the seam. He was targeted twice. Rookie Devin Asiasi played just ten snaps and wasn’t targeted. Fellow rookie Dalton Keane was inactive but was on the injury report last week.
Offensive Line: A-
The offensive line play was outstanding on Sunday. The Patriots dominated time of possession and that is a factor that says the running game was clicking. Having four of their five starters return for 2020 was a big plus. All of them played really well in the running game and consistently opened up holes for the backs to run through.
New right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor was terrific in his first start. David Andrews returned from injury and was solid although one of the sacks allowed was attributed to him. A really nice moment was when Newton scored his second TD and then gave the ball to Andrews to spike. Newton was asked about it after the game and said that Andrews was in the same boat as him (missed the season) and he wanted to share the feeling with Andrews in the celebration. Super smart move by Newton there.
Newton’s pass protection was also very good, one of the two sacks Miami got was more of a coverage sack than a breakdown of protection. Rookie Michael Onewnu played a handful of snaps as an extra tight end and acquitted himself well.
Granted it is only Week 1, but flashback to the Patriots last season in short-yardage (1-2 yards) and they were abysmal overall. On Sunday, five times they faced that short-yardage beast and converted all five. Now, a large part of that has to do with Newton and his ability to make the defense account for him on every play. But how many times did you see a back getting slammed in the backfield yesterday? Last season it was a far too often sight. Not yesterday.
Defensive Line: B-
The defensive line had a pretty solid game, prior to the start of the season we said we were concerned with the run defense but Miami didn’t run the ball with any kind of regularity yesterday. They rushed for 87 yards on 27 carries which is a 3.2-yard average. Jordan Howard was held to just seven yards on eight carries.
If there was one area to work on was the draw play which it seemed Miami hit on every time they ran it. And it looked like Adam Butler and Xavier Williams were pushed around in the running game a bit.
No one was overworked as they rotated players in and out and got good games from nearly everyone. John Simon and Chase Winovich had really strong games on the edge. Deatrich Wise continued his strong summer and was very productive on just 24 snaps with two QB hits, and two QB pressures. Derek Rivers looks bigger and stronger this season and had a sack. Byron Cowart got a partial block of a field goal. Lawrence Guy played on 22 snaps but looked solid as always.
The Patriots went with Ja’Whaun Bentley and one of the safeties for a big chunk of the day. Adrian Phillips was really strong with nine tackles, a tackle for a loss, a pass break up, and an interception. On that play, he read it well and sat down right in his area of responsibility. Ryan Fitzpatrick went from his second to his third read and didn’t see Phillips right in the throwing lane.
Phillips also forced the Gilmore interception with a blitz that forced Fitzpatrick to throw off his back foot which was a gimme for Gilmore. Anfernee Jennings got in for a handful of snaps and had a nice stuff down on the goalline. Overall the pass rush wasn’t great but it should get better. Josh Uche was a healthy scratch and he and Jennings should help in bringing the heat on the opposing QBs.
The Patriots secondary had a very good game limiting the Dolphins to just 191 yards through the air. Gilmore got flagged twice (the first was iffy), and although didn’t have his best game, snagged an interception and was still very good. Jonathan Jones and J.C. Jackson were also very solid.
Joejuan Williams was worked in as a safety covering Mike Gesicki at tight end and looked like he had a strong game. It certainly appears like he’ll be seeing more of those matchups in the future. Holding an opponent to under 200 yards passing is an achievement and it seemed like nearly every catch the Dolphins made was contested.
Special Teams: B
The Special Teams had a fairly good day. Nick Folk shanked a makeable field goal attempt but hit on his extra points. Jake Bailey was terrific as always and the coverage units were superb. But they nearly had a turnover early in the game. After Miami went three and out on their first series, J.C. Jackson ran into Byrd as he was calling a fair catch and he muffed the punt. Luckily Jackson recovered. The team had no return yardage.
The Patriots coaching staff gets high marks here. Bill Belichick was dealing with a plethora of changes in the team, especially at QB and LB and yet they appeared like they have been playing together for a much longer time.
Josh McDaniels called an outstanding game and his runs, RPO’s and play-action play calls kept Miami guessing and off-balance all day long Defensively, they pressured Miami’s receivers on every down and contested every play. The lack of a consistent running game kept Fitzpatrick in a lot of obvious passing situations where the Patriots are happy to oblige.
It was a good start but from here things get more difficult. So, with that, we close the book on Miami. We’re on to Seattle… and a much tougher contest
Posted Under: Patriots Report Card
Tags: 2020 Patriots Season Adrian Phillips Bill Belichick Cam Newton Chase Winovich J.C. Jackson J.J. Taylor James White Joejuan Williams Julian Edelman Miami Dolphins N'Keal Harry New England Patriots NFL Patriots Sony Michel Stephon Gilmore