Realistic Expectations for Cam Newton and the Patriots
Some non-coronavirus related news hit the NFL when former MVP quarterback Cam Newton signed with the New England Patriots this week. The move has everyone buzzing. People are proclaiming that New England is back in the picture for another Super Bowl, and that Cam Newton is the front-runner for comeback player of the year. Everyone should take a breath and relax. The news is fun, don’t get me wrong. The Patriots will be an interesting watch this year. However, the Cam Newton signing shouldn’t mean New England is one of the top choices to come out of the AFC. This holds true for multiple reasons.
First, injuries have riddled Newton the past two seasons. A shoulder injury limited the former MVP to 14 games in 2018, while a foot injury caused Newton to miss all but two games last season. But that’s not all, as Newton has missed time in four of the past six seasons. The QB’s play style is largely to blame. According to ESPN Stats and Info, in 2017 Newton had taken 922 hits or sacks since 2011, which was far more than Russell Wilson who ranked second with 615. Newton constantly putting his body in harms way by running the ball has come back to hurt him.
The problem for Newton is his legs are his best weapon.
Cam is at his best when he’s putting defenders in tough positions on a designed QB run. I mean after all, Newton has the most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback all-time with 58. However, the recent slew of injuries may cause Newton to be hesitant about running the ball this year. If that is the case, then Newton may find it difficult to succeed this upcoming season. The QB has never been an efficient thrower of the football. He has a completion percentage of 59.6% for his career, which would have ranked 30th in the NFL last season. He has a career passer rating of 86.1, which would have ranked 23rd last year. If Newton is forced to throw, he’s struggled for the majority of his career. The time he did shine when throwing the ball was his 2015 MVP season, in which he finished with 35 touchdowns. That season, Cam excelled with the deep ball, as he finished tied for sixth in the league at 7.8 yards per attempt. If Newton expects to repeat that in New England though, he may be in for a rude awakening.
Cam and the Patriots aren’t a great fit systematically. The former MVP excels in running and throwing the deep ball, two things New England doesn’t do. While injuries may limit the amount of times Newton runs the ball this year, New England’s system may limit how often he throws the deep ball. The Patriots pride themselves on throwing the short pass. Last season, Tom Brady finished tied for 34th in the NFL in yards per attempt. New England doesn’t want their QB getting hit, and instead opts for a quick passing game. This hinges on accuracy and timing out of the quarterback, which are two things Newton has struggled with.
Even if New England wanted to switch their system to help Cam excel, they lack the personnel to do so. The Patriots don’t have a single deep threat on their roster. Receiver Philip Dorsett was their lone speedster last season, and he left in free agency. Instead, New England is left not offering much help for their new QB. According to Pro Football Focus, the Patriots have the 30th ranked receiving core heading into the 2020 season. Their only reliable option is Julian Edelman, who is recovering from shoulder surgery during the offseason. While he was the only Patriots receiver to have more than 1,000 yards last year, he also led the NFL in drops with 13. Mohamed Sanu was a disappointment last season, finishing with 207 yards in eight games. First round pick N’Keal Harry also struggled, accumulating just 105 yards in seven games. Newton also won’t have a reliable tight end or running back, which he had for most of his time in Carolina with Christian McCaffrey and Greg Olsen. Instead, the QB will have Sony Michel who failed to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing, James White who is solely a pass catching back, and unproven tight ends (Matt LaCosse, rookies Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene).
While the lack of weapons could prove trouble for Newton, other aspects could cause issues for New England as a whole. The first being the retirement of long time offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. Scarnecchia had been with the Patriots organization for 34 years; and is considered one of the best o-line coaches in the entire league. His loss could result in a dip in play for New England’s offensive line. The second issue regards the Patriots defense. What many consider the strongest part of New England’s team showed vulnerability towards the end of last season. After being a juggernaut the first half of the season, New England’s defense allowed 37 points to the Ravens, 28 points to the Texans, and 27 points to the Dolphins during the second half of the season. Couple that with the loss of four defensive starters (Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Danny Shelton, Duron Harmon), and New England’s top unit could take a step back this year. Finally, the Patriots weren’t given any favors in the scheduling department. New England has the most difficult schedule in the NFL, and must face the Seahawks (away), Chiefs (away), 49ers (home), Bills (home/away), Ravens (home), Texans (away), and Rams (away) this season.
So where does that leave Cam Newton and the Patriots this season?
According to Vegas, not much better than before. Sportline had New England’s over/under win total set at just below eight games with Jarrett Stidham as the projected starter (7.8). After the Newton signing, the total was bumped up to just above 9 (9.3). Considering an offseason with no in-person workouts, a system which doesn’t fit the new QB, a severe lack of weapons, and a defense/offensive line which could take a step back this season, 9–7 seems like a best case scenario for New England. They still have Bill Belichick however, so anything’s possible.