Cam & the Pats rush past Miami!

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The Patriots started off the post-Brady era with a win, as they knocked off the Miami Dolphins (0-1) with a 21-11 victory in an empty Gillette Stadium. Cam Newton made his heavily anticipated debut as the team’s quarterback, and was efficient as both a rusher and a passer. In addition, Bill Belichick’s defense came to play, as they were able to mostly shut down Miami’s offense throughout the game.

Here are some takeaways from this Week 1 contest.

1. Cam and the offense had their way

As I mentioned in my preview for this game, the biggest question mark for the Patriots was definitely Cam Newton’s health and effectiveness, as we hadn’t seen him in action for almost a year. Newton didn’t disappoint, as he had 230 total yards, including 2 rushing touchdowns. He was a decisive rusher, and most surprisingly, he didn’t shy away from contact, with a clear highlight being his second touchdown, where he got hit hard by a Dolphins’ defender as he crossed the goal line. After two decades with a immobile quarterback, it was fascinating to see the designed runs cooked up by Josh McDaniels, which varied from option runs to simple draws.

Furthermore, Newton’s passing was crisp, and apart from a couple of drops and pass breakups, he was accurate with the football. It was encouraging to see him build a rapport with Julian Edelman (5 receptions for 57 yards), N’Keal Harry (5 receptions for 39 yards), and James White (3 receptions for 30 yards). The trio will need to step up throughout the season for the team to have success getting the ball down the field. Unfortunately for Harry, he had a crucial fumble into the end zone which ended a great drive in second half, and breathed new life into Miami’s comeback attempt. More than anything else, Bill Belichick values protecting the football, so I’m sure that he let the second-year receiver know that mistakes like that won’t be tolerated in the future.

I believe that the offensive line had a great game, as they were able to protect Newton (he was only sacked 2 times), and clear lanes for the team’s running backs. It was encouraging to see David Andrews return to action after missing last season, and it was clear that having him back helped anchor the offensive line. The team’s running backs (along with Newton) collaborated for 217 yards on the ground, setting a record for a Patriots’ season opener. After struggling for most of last season, Sony Michel showed some burst, although he only netted 37 yards, to go along with a touchdown. The biggest surprise from the running back room had to be undrafted rookie J.J. Taylor, who showed his ability to be a power runner despite his shorter stature, as he totaled 28 yards off of 4 carries.

All in all, having a versatile quarterback such as Newton helped change the pace of the Patriots offense, as they’re definitely more versatile than they’ve been in the past. However, it’s important to note that they will probably switch things up as they get through the season, as it’s not sustainable to have Newton rush 15 times per game.

cam & pats w120
(Steven Senne/AP)

 

2. The secondary led the defense once again

The last time these two teams met, Miami had their way against the previously impervious Patriots’ secondary, as they were able to drive down the field at will to win the game. Yesterday was a different story, as the Patriots were able to force Ryan Fitzpatrick into throwing three interceptions, with Stephon Gilmore, Adrian Phillips, and JC Jackson responsible for the turnovers. Apart from some mental errors that extended drives due to penalties in the second half, it’s hard to be mad at how the Patriots’ secondary played yesterday. However, they’ll have to be better as their competition becomes tougher.

The Patriots’ defense was much better against the run, as they held Miami to 87 yards as a team, with crafty veterans Matt Breida (5 carries for 22 yards) & Jordan Howard (8 yards for 7 yards) accounting for less than 30 yards combined. My only complaint is that that they struggled to contain Fitzpatrick coming out of the pocket, as he picked up a few first downs, and even scored on a two-point conversion.

To sum up their defensive performance, I was impressed by the way they locked up a sneaky good Miami offense, but there are definitely kinks to be worked up as the season progresses.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots
Sep 13, 2020; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; Miami Dolphins wide receiver Preston Williams (18) runs the ball against New England Patriots linebacker Anfernee Jennings (58) and defensive back Jonathan Jones (31) at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

 

Statistical Leaders:

Patriots

  • Passing: Cam Newton – 15/19 for 155 yards
  • Rushing: Cam Newton – 15 carries for 75 yards, & 2 touchdowns
  • Receiving: Julian Edelman – 5 receptions for 57 yards
  • Defensive: Adrian Phillips – 9 total tackles

Dolphins

  • Passing: Ryan Fitzpatrick – 20/30 for 191 yards, & 3 interceptions
  • Rushing: Myles Gaskin – 9 carries for 40 yards
  • Receiving: Devante Parker – 4 receptions for 47 yards
  • Defensive: Jerome Baker – 16 total tackles (including 1 sack)

Bonus:

1. New uniforms!

It was great seeing the Patriots debut their new uniforms, which looked great under the September sun, although it wouldn’t be a bad idea to introduce silver or white pants.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots
Sep 13, 2020; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (11) runs with the ball during the second half of a game against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

2. Artificial crowd

The artificial crowd noise concocted by the NFL left a bit to be desired, as it definitely didn’t sound like a real crowd was in attendance, but I’m guessing that it will be improved as the season goes on. 

3. Post game tussle

Cam Newton and some Miami defenders got into it after the game ended, with Newton insisting that they tried to yank one of the chains around his neck. Newton mocked them after the game on his Instagram, although two Dolphins chimed in to say that they didn’t want his “weak” chain.

What’s next?: The Patriots head out west to Seattle to take on Russell Wilson & the Seahawks (1-0) on Sunday Night Football.

Can the new look Patriots exact revenge on Miami?

 

 

In the NFL, it’s common knowledge that you’re not entitled to anything. If you want to put your team in a good position to succeed in the playoffs, you need to show up when it matters. Unfortunately for the Patriots, they didn’t seem to get the memo last season, when they unexpectedly dropped their regular season finale to the Miami Dolphins at home. That loss prevented New England from securing a first round bye, and forced them to host Tennessee for a Wild Card game that ended up being Tom Brady’s last game as a Patriot.

A lot of things have changed since that matchup in December, from the pandemic, to the vast exodus of veterans from the Patriots roster during free agency. A win tomorrow won’t change the result from that Week 17 contest, but it would help set the tone for a wildly different season with Cam Newton under center.

With that being said, here’s what to look forward to during this Week 1 matchup.

1. What will the Patriots’ offense look like?

New England’s offensive struggles throughout the tumultuous 2019 season were well documented, as it quickly became evident that receivers other than Julian Edelman consistently struggled to get open against man coverage. Other than letting Phillip Dorsett walk & releasing Mohamed Sanu, Bill Belichick didn’t do much to overhaul the wide receiver corps, which means that the Patriots will be relying on Edelman, N’Keal Harry, and Jakobi Meyers to carry the load. Personally, I’m excited to see what newcomer Damiere Byrd can bring to the table, as his pure speed could help open things up down the field. Due to the strength of Miami’s secondary, I’m pessimistic about the Patriots’ chances of winning one-on-one matchups against Dolphin defenders. However, the addition of rookie tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene could help lighten the load for the team’s wide receivers, as they are definitely miles better than the team’s putrid tight end room from last season. Based on what we’ve heard from training camp, both Asiasi & Keene are dynamic, but the learning curve for rookie tight ends is typically steep, so it will definitely be a storyline to follow.

After a stellar rookie season, Sony Michel struggled mightily during the 2019 season, as he had a tough time getting started behind a patchwork offensive line. Luckily for Michel, starting center David Andrews is returning to action, after missing the entire 2019 season due to blood clots in his lungs. Andrews was a key anchor for the offensive line that dominated opponents during the Patriots’ last run to the Super Bowl. Michel had a leg injury that sidelined him for most of training camp, but when he returned, it was reported that he was quicker and more agile than the last time we saw him. As always, the Patriots will turn to the reliable duo of James White & Rex Burkhead to supplement Michel, with the two veterans also playing an important role in the passing game as well. The most intriguing member of the running back room has to be Damien Harris, who had a strong training camp until he suffered an untimely injury that will sideline him for at least 3 weeks.

I think it’s obvious that the biggest question mark surrounding the Patriots right now has to be the health & effectiveness of Cam Newton. Due to a lack of preseason games, we haven’t seen Newton in action for almost a year, which means that his running ability (which typically energizes an offense) is an unknown for now. Hence, we don’t know how comfortable Newton will be scrambling around the pocket and line of scrimmage tomorrow. Most importantly, it’s interesting to wonder if he’ll still initiate contact with defenders, which was a big part of his game back in Carolina. That being said, the mystery around Newton’s game could actually be a boon for Belichick and Josh McDaniels, as Miami’s head coach Brian Flores won’t know exactly what he’s dealing with. Most analysts have said that they expect McDaniels’ plan for Newton to be similar to Norv Turner’s short passing game from Newton’s stellar but injury plagued 2018 season, which actually seems to suit how the Patriots’ receivers play, as they’re definitely more effective across the middle of the field.

All in all, I’m excited to see how the post-Brady Patriots’ offense looks with a more mobile quarterback in Cam Newton, whose strengths may help cover the warts at wide receiver and other skill positions.

New England Patriots Practice
FOXBOROUGH, MA – AUGUST 26: QB Cam Newton, left, and Julian Edelman work out during a drill at the training camp. The New England Patriots hold practice training camp at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA on Aug. 27, 2020. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

 

2. Can the defense deliver?

One of the biggest storylines of the offseason was the news that several Patriots veterans, including key leaders Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung had decided to opt out of the 2020 season due to concerns surrounding COVID-19. The absence of these two important defensive contributors will undoubtedly cast a spotlight on younger players on the defense, and test Bill Belichick’s confidence in them.

It may be hard to take the Dolphins’ offense seriously with 37 year old journeyman QB Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, but as the Patriots learned last year, he can hurt you when it matters most. Fitzpatrick’s top two weapons in Devante Parker & Mike Gesicki were key contributors during that December loss, and will likely be an important part of Miami’s game plan tomorrow. Uncharacteristically, Stephon Gilmore struggled mightily covering Parker, so I have to imagine that the reigning Defensive Player of the Year is salivating at the opportunity to exact revenge by locking up Miami’s top receiver. Due to the loss of Patrick Chung, it’ll be interesting to see how the Patriots decide to match up against Gesicki, but I wouldn’t be surprised if their top pick Kyle Dugger is given the assignment due to the success he had during training camp. Having Devin McCourty in the back end will be as important as ever, due to his effectiveness as both a player and a leader. New England will also have to deal with Preston Williams & Jakeem Grant, but I’m confident that the rest of the secondary will be able to limit their effectiveness.

However, the team’s defensive line and linebacker corps are much more of an enigma. The defensive line struggled to stop the run throughout last season, with the Wild Card game being a clear example, as Derrick Henry accumulated 182 rushing yards for the Titans. Other than adding veteran DT Beau Allen, the Patriots mostly stayed pat at the position, which means that Lawrence Guy and a slew of younger players will be tasked with playing much better against the run this season. Tomorrow’s game will be a tall task, as Miami has one of the fastest running backs in the league in Matt Breida, and a bruising rusher in Jordan Howard.

Dont’a Hightower’s decision to opt out dealt a devastating blow to the team’s linebacker corps, as he was a steadying force in the middle of the field. Luckily, the Patriots went into April’s draft with the goal of improving at linebacker, due to the departures of Jamie Collins, Elandon Roberts, & Kyle Van Noy (the latter two players signed with Miami). This led to the team drafting Alabama LB Anfernee Jennings & Michigan LB Josh Uche, who should help add versatility to the position behind three-year veteran Ja’Whaun Bentley. New England will also rely on Chase Winovich and John Simon to set the edge, and get after Fitzpatrick.

The Patriots had one of the NFL’s best defenses last year, so it will be intriguing to see how the retooled lineup looks tomorrow against a Dolphins offense that gave them fits last season.

Kansas City Chiefs v New England Patriots
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – DECEMBER 08: Stephon Gilmore #24 of the New England Patriots runs the ball after recovering a fumble against the Kansas City Chiefs at Gillette Stadium on December 08, 2019 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Gilmore was ruled down after recovering the fumble. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

 

Injury Report:

Patriots

  • Yodny Cajuste (knee) – Out
  • Gunner Olszewski (foot) – Out
  • Dalton Keene (neck) – Questionable
  • Cassh Maluia (knee) – Questionable
  • N’Keal Harry (shoulder) – Questionable
  • Chase Winovich (shoulder) – Questionable

Dolphins

  • Clayton Fejedelem (pectoral) – Doubtful

Bonus:

1. New uniforms!

Tomorrow’s game will mark the debut of the Patriots’ new uniforms, which are primarily based on the team’s popular Color Rush uniforms which were worn from 2016 to 2019. Interestingly, this will be the first time the team wears the combination in a non-prime time game.

Dev new unis 2020
(Photo via the New England Patriots)

 

2. Fans in the stands?

Due to COVID-19, the Patriots will not have fans in Gillette Stadium throughout September. New England has been provided with a recorded track of artificial crowd noise which will be filtered throughout the stadium.

 

Prediction: Patriots 23, Dolphins 14

Here are my picks for the rest of the NFL’s Week 1 slate (apart from Thursday’s opening game).

Jets at Bills: Bills

Packers at Vikings: Vikings

Eagles at Washington: Eagles

Browns at Ravens: Ravens

Colts at Jaguars: Colts

Raiders at Panthers: Raiders

Bears at Lions: Bears

Seahawks at Falcons: Seahawks

Chargers at Bengals: Chargers

Cardinals at 49ers: 49ers

Buccaneers at Saints: Saints

Cowboys at Rams: Cowboys

Steelers at Giants: Steelers

Titans at Broncos: Titans