With Cam Newton having been placed on the Reserve/Covid-19 list following his positive Coronanvirus test on late Friday, the New England Patriots will have to play at least one and possibly more games without their starting quarterback. With the former league MVP out, the expectation is that Brian Hoyer will get the call to lead the offense onto the field against the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday night: Hoyer served as the Patriots’ number two over the first three weeks of the season and brings considerable experience to the table.
That said, the veteran is obviously not the same player as the one he is replacing. Newton is a physical specimen and one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in all of football. Hoyer’s skillset, meanwhile, resembles that of former New England passer Tom Brady: neither will beat you with their athleticism, and they are more comfortable operating from the pocket in a traditional drop-back set. Accordingly, the Patriots’ offense will look different with Hoyer running the show.
How different? That is a question that will be answered at Arrowhead Stadium on Monday night. Knowing Newton’s and Hoyer’s skillsets, however, we can already identify some areas that will look different with the latter under center.
Designed quarterback runs
As noted above, Cam Newton is one of the league’s best dual-threat weapons — and the Patriots employed him as such in his first three games with the club: he carried the football a team-high 30 times while gaining a combined 154 yards and four touchdowns. Along the way, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels used his new starting quarterback in a lot of different ways outside of the non-scripted mobility Newton brought to the table.
Whether it was zone read concepts or quarterback power runs, McDaniels did not shy away from incorporating elements into the game that would fit Newton’s skillset. This did not come as a surprise based on his previous statements about offensive identity: “Whatever style you want to be, it should reflect the talents of your team,” the Patriots’ offensive play caller told reporters during last year’s training camp.
With Hoyer now manning the most important position on the field instead of Newton, the talents of the offense have obviously changed. Accordingly, the Patriots will likely refrain from using designed runs as the quarterback position and zone read concepts that feature the 34-year-old as a potential ball carrier. Instead, New England will try to play a game suitable for Hoyer’s strengths and experience within the system.
Quick passing concepts
Hoyer may not be the most electrifying passer in the league or even the Patriots’ locker room — there is a reason he is a backup in New England and not a starter somewhere else — but he does have some positive traits which the team could try to use to its advantage versus Kansas City’s defense on Monday. The most prominent of which is his aforementioned experience.
In order to take advantage of this over his arm talent, for example, the Patriots will likely try to put him in favorable situations that get the ball out of his hands quickly and establish a rhythm. McDaniels, of course, has numerous concepts at his disposal to employ: from using quick patterns that target the underneath areas of the field and will try to isolate the Chiefs’ linebackers in coverage, to running screen plays with the running backs.
With quick-hit concepts as the foundation, the Patriots might even be willing to explore deeper options: Hoyer did look good throwing the deep ball in training camp. While his preferred target this summer is on the practice squad — Devin Ross, who could theoretically be added to the active roster on game day through the standard elevation protocol — wide receivers such as Damiere Byrd and Julian Edelman have shown that they can stretch the field, even if not consistent deep-threats.
Before getting ahead of itself, however, the team will likely try to get Hoyer comfortable. One way to ensure this is by sticking with something that would likely have been prominently featured in the game plan even with Newton available: the running game.
Traditional running game
Having a player like Newton under center does not just impact the team’s general ability to move the football with him, but also the more traditional running game: defenses have to account for the quarterback as a runner, and possibly use spies or additional contain personnel to keep him from gaining yards on scrambles or designed runs. With this element now missing from the Patriots’ offense, however, the expectation is that the offense returns to a more traditional running attack.
As a result, New England might use an increased number of i-formation lineups featuring fullback Jakob Johnson as the lead blocker. While Sony Michel’s absence will make life harder for the running game, the team’s overall depth at the position — Rex Burkhead, James White, J.J. Taylor and possibly Damien Harris as well — still gives the team plenty of capable bodies. While their usage may differ a bit based on the quarterback their importance and role does not: they will likely have to carry New England’s offense against the Chiefs.