Advanced Stats Report: Timing Remains Biggest Issue for Cam Newton, Patriots Offense

Patriots quarterback Cam Newton is far from the only problem with New England’s offense, but he’s not giving the system a chance to succeed.

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Below are a variety of advanced stats from the Patriots’ 33-6 loss to the 49ers in Week 7. 

CAM NEWTON’S PASSING METRICS 

Patriots quarterback Cam Newton is far from the only problem with New England’s offense, but he’s not giving the system a chance to succeed.

On Sunday, Newton’s average time to throw was 3.13 seconds, his slowest release of the season, eliminating chances to make downfield throws because of poor timing. 

Based on NextGen’s completion percentage over expectation (CPOE), Newton wasn’t terribly inaccurate this week; he didn’t make timely decisions with the football.

Here’s a great example. The Patriots are running HOSS Z Juke, one of their staples, although it’s the first time we’ve seen it this year. Once he clears the second level, Newton has a wide-open N’Keal Harry out of the left slot who correctly makes it more of a skinny post rather than a seam with the two-high safeties. Newton sees it, initially loads up to the throw, then passes on Harry for whatever reason. After all the indecisiveness, it’s too late. 

Newton is also struggling with getting to his check-downs quickly once he scans the field. 

On this play, the Patriots are trying to take a shot off play-action. Without the all-22, we have no idea if Newton misses an open receiver downfield. But he has three late releases as check-downs that can salvage the play and stay ahead of the chains. Instead, Newton holds the ball in the pocket and is eventually pressured into a throwaway. The Pats OL blocked for nearly three seconds before the pass-rush got home; Newton needs to get rid of the ball. 

The Pats quarterback is also having issues with his throwing mechanics, displaying inconsistent footwork that’s leading to short-armed throws.

Lastly, we’ll continue to point out Newton’s unwillingness to go to the right side of the field. He routinely passed up on open receivers in the flats to the right sideline and didn’t attempt a single pass to the right in this game.

Newton’s fear of throwing right came after he injured his left (lead) foot in 2019, so maybe he’s not right physically. But I’m not a doctor, and Newton insists that he’s healthy. 

The Patriots’ bottom line is that they need a quarterback who can read plays out faster than Newton is right now, with that being a critical component of their passing system. 

Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is scheming receivers open, but those windows close quickly in the NFL, and the onus is on the quarterback to get the ball out.

PASS PROTECTION

New England’s offensive line only allowed pressure on 25 percent of drop-backs, with Newton responsible for two hurries and a few others due to a slow operation time.

The stats dock right guard Shaq Mason for a hurry on the second play above, but Newton made him block his man for nearly three seconds.

For the Patriots, the only glaring breakdown in pass protection came when rookie right tackle Michael Onwenu didn’t execute a “Rita” call from Newton. Newton calls “Rita” and points to the slot defender, expecting the protection to slide to his right to account for the blitzer. However, Onwenu doesn’t get the message, and Newton is sacked. 

Although he was injured during the game, the Pats got another clean sheet out of left guard Joe Thuney, who has only allowed three pressures the entire season. 

The Pats could shop Thuney since the team might not be playoff-caliber this season. Still, he’s the most consistent player they have on offense. 

RECEIVER SEPARATION 

According to NextGen Stats, the Patriots’ wideouts struggled once again to separate from defenders on their targets.

The issue with separation metrics is that they only count throws where receivers are targeted on the play. For example, the Harry miss in the first section goes down as a nothing in the separation spreadsheet. He was open but wasn’t targeted, so it’s like it never happened. 

Furthermore, the average separation in the league this season is 2.85 yards, which speaks to how little separation most teams get at this level. 

Here’s an example of how the NextGen model hurts the receiver for things out of his control. On the play, Jakobi Meyers has loads of separation on a corner route off a sail concept. The Pats flood the left sideline, Meyers is open, but Newton waits so long to release the ball that the safety is on top of Meyers by the time it arrives. 

The Patriots offense has a talent problem at the skill positions, but Newton isn’t making the layups, and that’s hurting them more than receiver separation.

DEFENSIVE PRESSURES & RUN STOPS

Although nobody will make excuses for the Patriots, Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers offense is a horrible matchup for the undersized New England defense. 

San Francisco fullback Kyle Juszczyk played 37 snaps on Sunday, his second-most in a game this season, as the Niners feasted on the second-level of the Pats defense. 

The Pats’ conundrum was either living with slow-footed linebackers in foot races or sacrificing size for speed with defensive backs.

Here, they decide to go the defensive back route by putting Jonathan Jones and Adrian Phillips as edge defenders with four defensive linemen on the interior. Shanahan’s answer was to run a “pop” pass at Jones with Juszczyk lead-blocking, ending with Jones on the ground. 

San Francisco attacked all game long with plays behind the line of scrimmage. In fact, Jimmy Garoppolo’s average depth of target was the lowest of any quarterback in the league this week. 

With all the short throws designed to gain yards after the catch, the Pats only pressured Garoppolo on five of his 27 drop-backs.

Ideally, the Pats would have a higher pressure rate than 18.5 percent, but the 49ers’ game-plan saw the ball come out in 2.37 seconds on average.

RUN DEFENSE

Shanahan gashed the Patriots run defense by featuring a crack toss, a scheme that he also dialed up often in Super Bowl 51 with the Falcons. 

The strength of New England’s run defense is on the interior. If teams run right at run-stuffers like Lawrence Guy and Ja’Whaun Bentley, the Pats can be an effective run defense, so Shanahan got the ball on the perimeter. 

Here, the Pats have eight defenders between the tackles with the Niners in 12 personnel. San Fran tosses the ball outside with Deebo Samuel cracking Anfernee Jennings to help get the edge. From there, Juszczyk becomes a lead-blocker for JaMycal Hasty, and Juszczyk cuts down Stephon Gilmore on their way to a 20-yard gain. 

New England also surrendered 3.7 yards per rush after contact, with 67 percent of the 49ers’ rushing yards coming after initial contact. 

The Patriots defense missed a season-high 11 tackles, and many of those misses came when 49er ball carriers were already coming downhill.

The good news for the Patriots is that the 49ers are a bad matchup for them, as not a lot of teams have a mix of physicality and talented ball carriers like San Fran. 

But one would still expect future opponents to take some things from the 49ers’ game plan. 

COVERAGE STATS 

Although many will point to the 49ers’ 197 rushing yards as a problem, the much bigger issue long-term came in the passing game. 

Similarly to yards after contact on the ground, the Patriots also surrendered 189 yards after the catch, making up 68 percent of Garoppolo’s passing yards on Sunday. 

Every offensive coordinator that faces the Patriots knows the Pats linebackers are below replacement level, and Ja’Whaun Bentley has become the “Waldo” of the defense. 

New England’s outside corners did their jobs in the passing game, with Stephon Gilmore and JC Jackson allowing a combined three catches for 17 yards.

However, the 49ers gashed the Patriots on passes between the numbers and in the flats, as Shanahan attacked the Pats linebackers in coverage. 

On this play, the 49ers ran Brandon Aiyuk on a “glance” route off play-action with two tight ends in the game, something they do every week. The Pats matched 12 personnel with Bentley and Jennings both off the ball to stop the run, and they looked completely lost reacting to the run fake. Once a linebacker reads play-action, the best thing to do is try to sniff out the route combination and drop quickly into the passing lane. Both Bentley and Jennings have no idea where their landmarks are as zone-droppers. It’s ugly. 

Shanahan, through play-action and motion, put the Pats linebackers in conflict all afternoon. 

Here, Jennings starts over Kittle in the slot and is responsible for the flat. However, he doesn’t get a jam on Kittle before he releases, so when Phillips false-steps on the play-fake, it’s an easy completion. Garoppolo likely completes that pass to Kittle because Phillips gets too far upfield playing the run, but a jam by Jennings makes it a tougher play. 

If the Pats don’t get better play from their linebackers, they should lean heavily on their sturdy secondary and play all their defensive backs.