During one his media conference call last week, Cam Newton had a simple message for those wondering how the New England Patriots’ offense would look like with him as its starting quarterback: “You just have to tune in and see.”
On Sunday, the Miami Dolphins will have a front row seat to the show.
The Patriots will be the Miami’s first opponent of the regular season, and the first team since the Buffalo Bills four years ago to study a quarterback other than Tom Brady when preparing for New England. Just like the rest of the league, they are therefore in the dark about what to expect from the team’s new look offense.
“When you look at film, all you see is Tom Brady. You can go back three years and you still see Tom Brady. You keep seeing Tom, keep seeing Tom; but it’s Cam Newton now,” linebacker Jerome Baker said about the challenges of getting ready for the Patriots’ offense.
“He can do it all. He’s got a strong arm, he can run, he’s athletic. If you still think about Tom and all of that, it’s going to be a long game. I think we need to do a great job of just making sure everybody remembers that it’s going to be Cam Newton. The type of player he is, he’s dynamic. In our heads, the coaches do a great job of constantly putting that in our ears. It’s going to be a different quarterback. A lot bigger, stronger, just an ultimately different player. I think we have a good idea that’s it’s Cam Newton, it’s no longer Tom.”
Brady served as the Patriots’ starting quarterback for the last 19 years, and had an offense around him custom-built around his specific strengths and weaknesses. With him now in Tampa Bay, however, the unit will get a new look: his successor does offer some of the same skills as the future Hall of Famer — from pre-snap diagnosis to successful intermediate passing — but at the end of the day is still a different type of passer.
“Cam brings a Cam effect,” said linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who spent the last three-and-a-half years as Brady’s teammate in New England. “That man is a gamer. MVP, so he knows how to win. He knows how to play to his strengths. He’s a really good passer. He can throw on the run really, really well. But the Cam effect is definitely the running.
“Being able to have that as, I guess, your third option — hand the ball off, throw and then be able to run and create something out of nothing — it’s tough to guard. We have our hands full and we’re doing everything we can to prepare for it; but we’re excited for the challenge. We know how good he is and we respect him as a player.”
Back in his heyday, Newton was a unique presence on the football field due to his combination of size and strength. Not only was he a legitimate passer, but also a serious threat as a runner — one that is built like a tight end at 6-foot-5, 245 pounds. While injuries have slowed him down over the last two seasons, a healthy Newton in a Josh McDaniels-built offense could still mean trouble for opposing defenses. That is especially true with no tape whatsoever on film just yet.
So, what do the Dolphins plan to do to stop Newton and company regardless of how the Patriots’ attack will eventually look like? Go back to a New England favorite: fundamental football.
“Read your keys, play with good fundamentals and technique, follow your rules. I think those are the main points that we’re talking about defensively every week. Communication,” head coach Brian Flores pointed out.
“A guy like [Newton] is obviously extremely talented. He can extend plays and make every throw. Obviously you want to contain him and keep him in the pocket. That’s easier said than done. You want to continue to be aggressive, but he’s a good player. If you are too aggressive and he slips through or finds a step-up space, he can hurt you. It’s going to be a great challenge for us.”
Flores knows the Patriots well: he spent his first 15 years in the NFL in Foxborough and worked his way all the way up from scouting assistant to defensive signal caller before leaving for Miami after the 2018 season. However, even he will not know what his team will face until actually seeing it in real-life on Sunday — something that can also be said for the other ex-Patriots on the team, such as linebacker Elandon Roberts, safety Eric Rowe, or Van Noy.
“I think it’s just all 11 on the same page, that’s what it takes,” the former Patriots linebacker added. “Every guy doing their job — as cliché as that sounds, that’s really what it takes. Whether you’re blitzing and you have to keep him in the pocket or whether you’re playing zone and everybody has eyes back to the quarterback, you have to do those little things against a running quarterback like that and be able to hit him.
“Just like any quarterback, you just have to continue to put that pressure on him and sustain it for all four quarters. It’s not easy and it’s not easy to do in this league; but when you do it, that’s usually when you come out with a good outcome.”