The sense of uneasiness was palpable on Sunday night. If you were watching the New England Patriots take on the Seattle Seahawks and following along on Twitter, there was uncertainty regarding one particular area of the offense.
The passing game.
Sure, with Cam Newton and some new wrinkles in the playbook the Patriots’ rushing attack could be prolific. But what happens when the game script changes, and the team needs to throw to get back into contests? Of course, an interception thrown by Newton did not help the effort, and the fans were restless.
At the end of the night, however, there was a different tune. Newton and the Patriots’ passing game had thrown them back into the contest, and the team came up a yard or two short of pulling off an impressive victory in the Pacific Northwest.
Newton finished the night having completed 68.2% of his passes for 397 yards, a touchdown and an interception. That Patriots passing game suddenly seemed a bit more potent.
Here are some videos highlighting what they can do in the air.
In this first clip, we see something that this passing game lacked last year. During Tom Brady’s final season the book on stopping New England seemed written: Double or bracket Julian Edelman, put a defensive back on James White, and force Brady to go elsewhere. That is largely what happens on this play, as the Seahawks put a bracket on Edelman. Forced to go elsewhere, Newton does just that with impressive timing and anticipation:
Working through some Patriots passing game from Sunday night and I'll clip some stuff here. First up is this 3rd and 7 conversion from the first quarter:— Mark Schofield (@MarkSchofield) September 22, 2020
*Adjusting to the adjustments
*Anticipation plus placement equals YAC pic.twitter.com/wtQkBG6i8I
Then there is this connection from Newton to Edelman on a deep over route. Sometimes good offensive football — and good offensive design — is about putting defenders into conflict. N’Keal Harry runs a pivot route along the right, and the Cover 3 cornerback bites down on that a bit. That creates space for Edelman working from left to right. Jamal Adams is tasked with running under this crosser, using a “ROBOT” technique that asks hook defenders in zone coverages to turn and identify crossing routes, and get underneath them. But the play-action draws his eyes, giving Edelman the advantage working across the field:
Good offensive football sometimes comes down to putting defenders into conflict pic.twitter.com/DCRmYcQdTx— Mark Schofield (@MarkSchofield) September 22, 2020
For more on this “ROBOT” technique — and specifically how the Patriots employ it on defense — you can check out this meaty piece from Steven Ruiz of For The Win.
Then finally there is this example of a vertical connection from Newton to Edelman. On this play you see how Josh McDaniels uses pre-snap movement to give his quarterback information. You also see Newton do a great job of moving the safety in the middle of the field, to create space for Edelman:
Love this connection from Newton and Edelman:— Mark Schofield (@MarkSchofield) September 22, 2020
*Helping your quarterback pre-snap
*Moving defenders with your eyes pic.twitter.com/VIG3e7QX6L
Sunday night, in the wake of the loss, I took to the microphone to outline why this defeat was not cause for sadness. There is reason for true optimism about this Patriots team.
After studying Newton and this passing game some more, that position has not changed.