Instant analysis from the Patriots' 21-11 win over the Dolphins:
▪ We finally got a glimpse of the Patriots' offense with Cam Newton running the show, and the results were decidedly positive. The Patriots dominated the game on the ground, dominated time of possession (34:49), and Newton was efficient in the pass game, connecting on 15-of-19 passes for 155 yards.
But this was hardly the full Cam Newton Experience. Josh McDaniels kept the training wheels on the offense Sunday and went conservative, relying heavily on the run game, play-action passes, and simple, designed passing plays. The Patriots ran the ball 42 times for 217 yards and called just 21 passing plays.
There was no downfield passing, and the only pass longer than 20 yards was a busted coverage on Ryan Izzo’s 25-yard catch. On one particular third and 6, McDaniels called a handoff to James White that came up short.
The Patriots weren’t unique in this approach — with no offseason program and no preseason games, most NFL offenses looked simplified on Sunday. And Newton just hasn’t been here long enough to get too deep into the playbook. McDaniels was smart to keep it simple.
The fact the Patriots could win by 10 mostly by running the ball is encouraging for later in the season, when Newton gets more comfortable with the offense.
▪ Forget the notion of protecting Newton as he returns from two injury-plagued seasons. He was the Patriots' leader in carries (15), yards (75), and touchdowns (two) — and it wasn’t as if Newton was scrambling out of the pocket all day. Fourteen of his runs were designed — power runs in the red zone and third-down, zone-read plays, and even a traditional option pitch to White for 7 yards. Both of Newton’s touchdown runs were basically the same play — a spread formation, put four receivers to the left, and clear out the right side for Newton. His second touchdown probably should have been overturned, but he still showed great speed in getting to the edge.
Newton also showed great instincts and speed in scrambling 12 yards on first-and-10. And he showed great toughness in powering through several defenders on fourth-and-1. From a health and athleticism standpoint, this was a fantastic showcase for Newton.
▪ The passing game was efficient, as Newton hit 15 of 19 overall and 9 of 10 in the second half. But long term, this passing game won’t be able to survive without more guys who can win 1-on-1 battles. Julian Edelman showed up, with five catches on seven targets for 57 yards (plus a great 23-yard run). But N’Keal Harry had a quiet five catches for 39 yards, Damiere Byrd and Jakobi Meyers didn’t have a catch, and Izzo’s 25-yard catch was the only one by the tight ends all day.
▪ Newton is not Tom Brady when it comes to awareness. He took two bad sacks in the first half that Brady normally doesn’t take. And CBS' Tony Romo pointed out that Newton wasn’t able to check the Patriots out of a few bad plays that the Dolphins immediately stuffed. It is up to McDaniels and QB coach Jedd Fisch to get Newton up to speed quickly. I also thought Newton was half a beat late on the pass to Edelman that the receiver dropped in the first quarter.
▪ Harry — woof. His fumble that went out of the end zone was inexcusable and at minimum should cost him some laps at practice. He barely factored into the passing game, and also surprisingly crumpled to the ground after taking a hit in the first quarter. Harry is 6 feet 4 inches and 225 pounds, and is supposed to be dishing out the hits. The Patriots need a lot more from their 2019 first-round pick.
▪ But I already have a new favorite player, and his name is J.J. Taylor. A 5-6 undrafted rookie out of Arizona, Taylor made the most of his opportunity on Sunday. He didn’t play a ton, but he got four carries for 28 yards, and one catch for 4 yards. Bill Belichick always says that players earn whatever opportunity they get, and Taylor should be getting more.
▪ The Patriots may have a mess of a situation at kicker. They drafted Justin Rohrwasser in the fifth round, but he got hurt during camp and now resides on the practice squad. They brought back 35-year-old Nick Folk, but Folk had a horrible miss on a 45-yard attempt — it wasn’t even close — and Belichick had to pass up a 54-55-yard opportunity in the first half. If you can’t trust your kicker to hit field goals under 50 yards, and can’t attempt long ones, you are in big trouble.
▪ Great performance for the Patriots' defense, holding the Dolphins to 269 yards and intercepting Ryan Fitzpatrick three times. But I’m not putting too much stock into the defense just because they dominated Miami in Week 1.
▪ Safety Adrian Phillips had a solid game in his Patriots debut, leading the team with nine tackles and adding an interception and pass defensed. Phillips played the “Patrick Chung” role — a safety playing up in the box. Chase Winovich also had a solid game in a full-time role, finishing with six tackles and a quarterback hit. Maybe it’s the long hair, but you always notice Winovich on the field and he always seems to be around the ball.
▪ This was the first Patriots game with artificial crowd noise, and I barely noticed it. The empty stadium looked haunting and strange, but the game itself sounded like a Patriots game. Good job by CBS and NFL Films to come up with authentic-sounding background noise.
More coverage from the game:
- Stephon Gilmore, Patriots secondary pick right up where they left off
- Tara Sullivan: Cam Newton steps up and steps in, and a new era begins in Foxborough
- Cam Newton says Dolphins tried to come for his gold chain in dust-up after game
- Cam Newton made his own noise in a smashing debut for Patriots
- Chad Finn: Now that reality has set in, watching Cam Newton on the Patriots will be a lot of fun — and other thoughts
- Cam Newton rushed for more yards in one game than Tom Brady did in two regular seasons combined