Advanced Stats Report: Examining Cam’s Day as a Passer, Pats Third-Down Defense Stays Hot

Patriots quarterback Cam Newton's accuracy was on-point according to several advanced metrics.

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Below are a variety of advanced stats from the Patriots’ 21-11 victory over the Miami Dolphins:

CAM NEWTON’S PASSING STATS

Patriots quarterback Cam Newton is off to a great start after executing Josh McDaniel’s game-plan extremely well in Sunday’s win over the Dolphins. 

Newton only attempted four passes of over ten yards in Week 1, which was by design but was razor-sharp with his short and intermediate pass attempts. 

Out of 28 quarterbacks, Newton ranked tenth in completion percentage over expectation (4.25) and seventh in expected points added per play (0.295). 

For those that aren’t familiar with CPOE, the stat measures a quarterback’s raw completion percentage in a game versus what the model expects an NFL quarterback to complete in the same situation. In other words, Newton’s traditional completion percentage was 78.9 when CPOE expected him to complete 74.7 percent of his throws, meaning he added value. 

Newton’s mechanics were smooth in his lower body, throwing with a good base and a sound weight transfer from front to back, so he had great control of the ball. 

After reviewing the TV copy of Newton’s 19 throws, his grasp of New England’s staple play-action concepts from under center was a good sign seeing that’s not a career strength. 

On Sunday, the Pats QB was 8-of-9 with an average 11.0 yards per attempt off of play-action. 

New England’s first big play generated off of play-action was a great off-script read from Newton and tight end Ryan Izzo. The Pats are simulating a power run by pulling the backside guard with Izzo crossing behind the linebackers. Dolphins linebacker Jerome Baker reads the scheme well and cuts off Izzo’s route, so Izzo curls back inside to give Newton an outlet. 

Here, the Pats simulate their fullback lead play with Jakob Johnson and Sony Michel in the backfield. Newton’s fake gets the Miami linebackers to step forward and play the run while Julian Edelman uncovers on an over route crossing over the middle. Newton hits him in stride for a 16-yard completion. 

Along with attempting only one pass beyond 20 yards, Newton’s average time to throw was a brisk 2.13 seconds, as the game plan called for a quick release, and Newton obliged. 

Although his accuracy and execution were excellent for game one, we’ll get to some of the protection breakdowns on Newton that speak to some growing pains next. 

For those looking for film breakdowns on Newton’s 15 rushing attempts, we’ll have a detailed review of New England’s schemes to highlight Cam’s mobility on Tuesday. 

PASS PROTECTION

The Patriots offensive line only allowed two quarterback pressures on 22 drop-backs, an excellent day along with their run blocking, but Cam himself had issues setting the protection. 

Newton was responsible for a sack and another pressure because he didn’t set the protection properly, which is probably a result of him still learning the system to make calls at the line.

On Miami’s first sack of the game, the Pats are running the same play-action scheme we saw Newton hit Izzo on above, but this time Baker blitzes. When Baker walks up to the line before the snap, he goes right over Thuney, and Newton should realize that Thuney is pulling in this protection call. With Thuney pulling and Baker coming fast, there’s no way that center David Andrews can get in front of Baker in time. Based on what the defense showed him pre-snap, Newton should’ve checked out of this play to keep himself protected. 

Here’s another example with the same pulling issues but a different blitz by Miami. The Dolphins run a zero blitz with seven defenders up on the line. Thuney is pulling to the edge defender to Cam’s right, but with the all-out blitz on, every lineman is covered, and there’s no help coming from right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor for Thuney. Again, that’s a losing hand that Cam should reset the deck once the Dolphins show the zero blitz before the snap. 

At the end of the day, if the worst thing about Newton’s first game as a Patriot is two blown protections, then we’ll take it. But for that reason, his performance on Sunday wasn’t perfect. 

SLOT PERFORMANCE

The Patriots got a strong performance from Julian Edelman out of the slot despite the former Super Bowl MVP’s lighter workload as the team eases him into the season. 

McDaniels schemed up a few different ways to get Edelman touches in space, as we saw above, and as we’ll see with the next play on the “mesh” concept from the Pats OC. 

On the play, the Patriots anticipate that the Dolphins will be in man coverage, so they run intersecting crossing routes over the middle. Izzo and N’Keal Harry cause too much traffic for Edelman’s man, Jamal Perry, to weed through the trash and stick with the Pats wideout. Once the ball is in his hands, Edelman has plenty of room to run and picks up 16 yards. 

In a small sample, Harry’s slot usage increased from 12.7 percent of his rookie season routes to 26.3 percent on Sunday. Hopefully, we’ll see that expanded usage continue.

DEFENSIVE PRESSURES & RUN STOPS

The Patriots pass rush only generated pressure on 23.5 percent of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s drop-backs or eight times under pressure on 34 passing plays. 

Still, the defense had timely pressures that forced turnovers with new players executing old schemes such as their three-man stunt series on Stephon Gilmore’s interception. 

The Pats use hybrid safety Adrian Phillips as an edge rusher to add some speed into the pass rush on the pick. Phillips wraps around penetration from Adam Butler and Shilique Calhoun to get a free run at Fitzpatrick through the middle of the line. The pressure forces Fitzpatrick into a bad decision, and Gilmore bodies Preston Williams off the top of his route to finish the play. 

Along with hurrying Fitzpatrick into an interception, Phillips and fellow hybrid defender Terrence Brooks each played a combined 40 snaps in the box as de facto linebackers. Putting defensive backs in those linebacker roles gives the Patriots tremendous flexibility in coverage in a passing league. But can they hold up versus the run? Against Miami, they did. 

The Pats held the Dolphins to 3.2 yards per rush on 27 carriers, with Phillips and Brooks combining on three run-stops. On the play above, the Pats have five defensive backs on the field on third and two, so Fitzpatrick checks into a run. Unfortunately for Miami, Brooks instantly reads the running play like a linebacker and makes the tackle.

Leading the Patriots in both the pass rush and run defense was second-year edge defender, Chase Winovich. Winovich made several positive plays against the run, showing off his all-around skill set that had Belichick saying he’ll be an every-down player this season. 

Although the Pats didn’t generate pressure at a high rate, the theory is that they wanted to contain Fitzpatrick in the pocket, who is an underrated scrambler. They’ll need to do that again next week against Russell Wilson. 

COVERAGE STATS

Outside of a few borderline penalties, the Patriots secondary got some sweet revenge on Fitzpatrick, DeVante Parker, and company by intercepting the Miami QB three times.

Two of those interceptions came on third down with Miami converting four-of-11 third-down attempts, continuing a ridiculous run for the Pats defense from the start of 2019. 

Since the start of 2019, the Pats generate a ridiculous -0.569 expected points per play on third down, over double the next closest team. In all, opponents are 55-of-217, or 25.3 percent, by far tops in the league, on third down against the Pats over the last two seasons. Good luck, NFL. 

Along with their third-down prowess, another trend is forming for the Patriots secondary, especially when it comes to cornerback JC Jackson, who had another shutdown performance. 

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is a big believer in press-man coverage, and the Pats played the third-most snaps in press-man coverage a year ago with it being their main coverage call.

However, Belichick allows Jackson, and at times Gilmore too, the freedom to play off-man coverage in certain situations, enabling the Pats corners to make more plays on the ball. 

On Sunday, Jackson was only in press-man on 12 of his 26 coverage snaps, and his interception and pass-breakup both came with him off the line of scrimmage. 

Again, in off-man, Jackson can still play tight man-to-man coverage on his receiver and peak into the backfield to read the quarterback. On his late-game interception, Jackson’s technique allows him to peel off his man to jump Fitzpatrick’s throw. If he is pressed, Jackson’s back is likely to the quarterback, and he can’t make the same read and play. 

With great coverage players in the secondary, Belichick is relaxing his man coverage philosophies just a bit to turn his defensive backs into playmakers. 

Belichick’s willingness to let players like Jackson take risks in off-man shows why he’s such a great coach; he’s always willing to adapt to his team’s strengths.