No, it was not perfect. They put up only 21 points, failed to consistently move the football through the air, and allowed the Miami Dolphins to get back into the game due to a series of miscues. And yet, the New England Patriots’ new-look offense did have plenty of encouraging moments during its 21-11 victory in Sunday’s season opener — certainly enough to control the game for 60 minutes.
It all started with the running game. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels called 63 offensive plays against the Dolphins, with two thirds of them resulting in a run: New England had 42 running plays compared to only 21 drop-backs. The box score does not tell the whole story, though.
According to NFL’s Next Gen Stats, 83 percent of the Patriots’ plays were either a run or an action call built around a run design (52 of 63 plays).
New England’s intentions became clear from the get-go: the team ran the football on its first five plays and set the tone right away before starting to incorporate passing concepts as well. This mix proved a successful one for the Patriots, and head coach Bill Belichick talked about it during his postgame press conference as well.
“Run the ball as effectively as we did, and then coming back and passing the ball after we had run it, that was a good balance that we struck there,” Belichick said. “I thought, as usual, Josh called a great game. He put our offensive players in great positions to make plays and we had a high level of execution from all the units offensively.”
Center David Andrews also touched on New England’s attack offensive attack after the game.
“We wanted to have a balanced game plan, while going out there and being aggressive and physical, and I think up front we have a good group of guys that work really hard and have worked really hard in training camp for this exact moment,” he said. “It is all a building block and I am proud of the guys for the way that they worked out there today. We can learn a lot from this game and keep improving but it was a good starting point that we have to keep building on.”
The center piece of the Patriots’ run-first attack was, of course, Cam Newton. A true dual-threat at the quarterback position, the free agency acquisition completed 15 of 19 pass attempts for 155 yards. He also was New England’s leading ball carrier: he carried the football 15 times and scored two touchdowns. Newton also picked up a crucial fourth down in the final period, before icing the game with an 11-yard scamper later on.
After the game, New England’s new starting quarterback spoke about the team’s ability to play successful situational football as a key to the victory.
“One of the keys to the game for us was to win all situational football, and situational football situations don’t necessarily come in the last two minutes of the game. We did fail at some early parts — early on we had an opportunity to put them away, we didn’t, we kept them lingering, they had a little momentum. But we did respond,” said Newton.
“I could have played better, clean. But just to see Julian [Edelman] making the plays that he’s made, [James] White, the offensive line stepping up, the defense coming in clutch with three interceptions that we didn’t get points off. We just have to keep getting better, keep working towards as we get prepared for our next game.”
This focus on getting better was also echoed by Newton’s head coach. Belichick, true to form, mentioned the team’s need to improve moving forward — not without also praising the quarterback and his performance, though.
“I thought he played well today, he hit a lot of passes, he ran the ball well, he led the team, he made some good checks and adjustments. I thought he did a good job,” Belichick said about Newton. “But, look, there’s room for improvement from all of us. I’m not saying it was the best executed game in the history of football, but we did some good things today in all three phases of the game. We’re proud of that, and we’ll go back to work on the things that we need to do better.”
Julian Edelman expressed a similar mindset following the game. The veteran wide receiver, who finished as the Patriots’ number one pass catcher after he caught five of seven targets for a combined 57 yards, praised his teammates but also stressed the need to keep getting better.
“I’m looking forward to compounding and building off this and fixing the things that we didn’t necessarily do well and adding to the things that we did do well and keeping it going,” Edelman said. “It was fun to finally get out there and play with [Newton], along with all the other new teammates. Little J.J. [Taylor] out there making plays, N’Keal [Harry] made some plays, [Damiere Byrd]’s out there.
“It was good to go out there and see what the 2020 team’s about.”
While it remains to be seen how that 2020 team and its recently unveiled offense continue to grow over the coming weeks, and whether or not it is able to kickstart its passing attack, some of the early signs were undoubtably positive. The Cam Newton era was therefore off to a good start.