Oh how seven days can change the way you look at things. Following their victory over Baltimore last week I had this to say: “It took them 10 weeks but the New England Patriots finally showed us what they are capable of last night as they prevailed over the Baltimore Ravens 23-17 in a hard fought and rain soaked victory that saw the emergence of some young stars.”
Today, after watching an uninspired performance with sluggish effort and dreadful execution, I can truly say that I have no idea what this team is. Are they good? No. Are they bad? No. Are they just a mediocre football team? I don’t know. They’ve broken my brain.
Those young stars I spoke of were just okay, and the rookies who made splash plays last week were instead exposed and made to look like... well, rookies. Simply put, the Houston Texans executed and the Patriots did not.
Since New England completely changed up the way they played football this week, I decided to change up the way we look at our unsung heroes. Instead of taking away individual plays and performances we’re going to look at one man who did his job at a high level, but for some reason continues to take the blame.
Week 11’s Unsung Hero
QB Cam Newton (26/40, 365 yards, 1 touchdown)
Cam Newton played one of his best games of the season on Sunday night. He had his third straight game without a turnover and was consistent in making good decisions. His 365 passing yards are good for the second highest total on the season. If you watched the game it’s pretty easy to see that he played well, unfortunately that 26-of-40 number doesn’t look all that great so I charted all of Newton’s incompletions to see how they came about.
Here are the results of his 14 incomplete throws:
- 8 passes batted/thrown while being hit
- 4 inaccurate throws
- 1 drop
- 1 throwaway
11 of those 14 incomplete throws came within five yards of the line of scrimmage.
So what is the root of the problem? Cam Newton has greatly improved but the passing game as a whole has not. It’s pretty easy to see that the Patriots haven’t changed the offense enough to fit Cam.
Don’t get me wrong, the option plays and focus on the rushing attack is certainly new from the Tom Brady days, but the passing game hasn’t changed at all. Josh McDaniels continues to call slow developing screen plays and short passes that do not fit what Cam Newton does well. His accuracy drops off tremendously when forced to make short throws, as you saw four times yesterday and plenty of times before that. When asked to take some mustard off of these throws they are easily batted down or float at the feet of receivers.
Newton had zero accuracy problems on deep throws (20 yards or more) going 2-of-3 with 92 yards and a touchdown. We’ve come to see that when he’s allowed to push the ball down field, Cam Newton is at his best. He’s 10-of-16 (62.5%) on deep throws this season and on Sunday, his lone incompletion came when his arm was hit on a deep comeback to Damiere Byrd, who still almost caught the ball.
Even in the intermediate game Newton thrives. Yesterday he was 6-of-7 for 115 yards passing on throws from 10-20 yards in the air. The lone incompletion in that category was the fourth down scramble drill that was dead from the start.
Ultimately, it’s true that Cam Newton needs to improve his short game. His mechanics are especially lacking when he’s forced to throw into the flat or on a screen, but eventually as a play caller you would expect Josh McDaniels to mold what he does around his quarterback, something we saw him do for a decade-plus with Tom Brady.
Next time you look to put some blame on the quarterback, remember what he’s working with. Cam Newton was good last Sunday in Houston, but you can’t always expect him to be great.