The Patriots found out the hard way that Russell Wilson is the best quarterback in the league after a goal-line stop secured a 35-30 win for Seattle over New England on Sunday night.
Although the Seahawks staved off Cam Newton’s late-game heroics, Newton’s nearly 400 passing yards showed that the Patriots offense can win games through the air.
After attempting only four passes beyond ten yards a week ago, Newton completed 15 passes of ten or more yards on Sunday night, proving that he can still beat you with his arm and legs.
The Patriots might’ve lost, but Newton and the offense offered plenty of optimism about the direction they’re heading on that side of the ball.
Defensively, the Pats allowed five passing touchdowns for the first time since 2009, and most were magnificent plays by Wilson, who was ready for everything Bill Belichick threw at him.
We can tip the cap to Wilson, D.K. Metcalf and the Seahawks coaching staff for having its offense prepared for all of Belichick’s wrinkles, but let’s not let the Pats defense completely off the hook.
Seattle exposed the shortcomings in New England’s front seven by taking away their ability to scheme-up the rush due while gashing the Patriots defense on the ground in their safety-heavy packages.
With Wilson’s mobility and smarts, exotic pressure schemes and blitzing are good ways to get overaggressive and lose contain on the Seattle quarterback, which happened at times anyways.
However, when the Patriots can’t rely on Belichick’s tricks to get pressure, they left Wilson with too much time to find open receivers; the secondary needs to be near-perfect. Last season, there was at least some rush bailing out the coverage rather than it all being on the backend.
Still, the game came down to the margins. Wilson made plays, Cam answered, and ultimately Seattle’s defense made a stop. One or two things go differently, and that’s a Pats victory.
Here are ten things we learned from the Patriots’ loss to the Seahawks:
1. Cam Newton Nearly Puts Team on His Back in Comeback Attempt
After running the ball 42 times in their Week 1 win, the naysayers asked what would happen if Newton had to throw more? Well, now we know.
Newton went 15-of-19 for 295 yards on passes over ten yards in the air on Sunday night. Outside of his interception, his accuracy was terrific. He was creating plays both within the framework of the offense and outside the structure of the scheme. Plus, 22.7 percent of Newton’s throws were into tight windows, yet he completed 68.2 percent of his passes.
If there was any doubt about Newton’s ability to handle a pass-heavy game script, he silenced those doubters by going toe-to-toe with Wilson.
First, there shouldn’t be any more concerns about Newton’s arm strength after the throw above. On the play, the Pats get Julian Edelman in space against Seahawks safety Jamal Adams, who is responsible for that area of the field in Seattle’s quarters coverage structure. Newton moves to his left, away from the rush, and drops a nearly 50-yard dime to Edelman.
Newton also made plays outside of the scheme by extending the down from the pocket. Here, Newton does an excellent job of stepping up in the pocket to buy himself more time as the rush begins to close on him, and finds Damiere Byrd over the middle on the broken play.
Here’s another example of Newton breaking Jamal Adams’s tackle in the backfield to avoid a sack while keeping his eyes downfield to reset and find Edelman sitting down in a vacated area.
Cam’s downfield accuracy wasn’t always consistent in his career, but a lot of that had to do with his lower-body mechanics and footwork. In the first two games, Newton’s feet are syncing up with his throws while his shoulders stay level and he torques his torso for added velocity.
Instead of it all being on his right arm, Newton is using his entire body to generate velocity, a testament to the work he has done with QB coach Jedd Fisch and on his own this offseason.
The Patriots have Newton, who naturally has an unorthodox throwing motion, as mechanically sound from the waist down as we’ve seen him throughout his entire NFL career.
Fisch says that you can improve a quarterback’s accuracy by improving his footwork and anticipation, focusing on the lower-body and above the shoulders, and it’s paying off so far.
2. Russell Wilson Lights Up Patriots Secondary in Five-Touchdown Performance
The following statement might sound like hyperbole, but it accurately describes Wilson’s play on Sunday night: that was the best game I’ve ever seen from a quarterback against Belichick.
Wilson is in the enlightened state of his career where he’s in his prime physically while also coming into his own mentally, and none of Belichick’s typically fruitful tricks phased him.
Here, the Patriots ran a five-man pressure with Chase Winovich beating the left tackle to hurry Wilson, who somehow still saw that Adrian Phillips didn’t pick up the running back until it was too late. Wilson throws a tear-drop pass with the perfect amount of touch to drop it in the bucket to Chris Carson for six with pressure in his face.
Wilson also dropped an insane dime to D.K. Metcalf for a 54-yard touchdown with Winovich once again applying pressure as he threw.
Belichick tried the four-man mush rush, he tried pressuring with five rushers, he tried all-out blitzing him, and the Patriots had no answer for the Seahawks quarterback; Wilson was truly outstanding.
3. Julian Edelman Sets New Single-Game Career-High With 179 Receiving Yards
Edelman setting a new single-game career-high for receiving yards in the year after Tom Brady’s departure felt like a longshot to start the season, but he did just that on Sunday night.
The Pats wideout ate up Seattle’s zone coverages all night, often against All-Pro safety Jamal Adams, who was left to take Edelman on several occasions without much help.
On Edelman’s first big catch of the night, he made a terrific route adjustment based on the coverage, a little thing that was a major thing when you break it down. The Seahawks are in their typical cover-three match coverage with three players deep splitting the field into thirds. The Pats send N’Keal Harry into the boundary to occupy the outside corner, leaving Adams in the hook/over route zone to pick up Edelman coming across the field. Edelman sees Adams’s starting position, knows he has no help over the top and gets depth in his route to attack a weakness in the coverage. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s terrific stuff from Edelman.
We broke down Edelman’s 49-yarder earlier, but let’s watch it again. Edelman gives a slight hesitation at the top of the route, with Adams isolated on him in match coverage. The subtle move catches Adams flat-footed, and Edelman runs right by him for the big play.
Edelman already has a banged-up knee in the second week of the season. But even though he looks hobbled at times, when the ball is snapped, he’s still a dynamic playmaker.
4. Stephon Gilmore’s Battles With D.K. Metcalf in Loss
The marquee matchup of the night when Seattle had the ball was Patriots All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore versus the uber-talented second-year wideout for the Seahawks in Metcalf.
Metcalf’s 54-yard touchdown was one of the game’s biggest plays, but Gilmore also won his fair share of the reps.
On Metcalf’s touchdown, the Seahawks drew up a route that stresses New England’s coverage rules. Gilmore is in man coverage on Metcalf with post-safety help, meaning he plays in a trail technique with outside leverage. Since the deep safety will help on a post, Gilmore can play aggressively against anything breaking outside. Metcalf appears to know this and uses that against Gilmore, accelerating through his break to create separation over the top. Gilmore does well to play through the catch point while trying to catch up, but Metcalf is too strong through contact for the Pats CB to jar the ball loose. Great route, great throw.
Although Metcalf had the touchdown, Gilmore limited him to three catches for 38 yards outside of that one play, and the two were battling all night in a terrific matchup.
Here, Metcalf tries to hit Gilmore with a double move. But the Pats cornerback plays with excellent technique and eye discipline to not fall for the fake. Gilmore’s patience to not jump the first move, and his footwork and hip transition to stay with Metcalf were first-class stuff.
We are accustomed to seeing Gilmore completely erase his matchup from the game and hasn’t quite been his dominant self to start the season, but he’s still all over opposing wideouts.
5. N’Keal Harry Shows Us Something Late, Still Looking For Big Plays After Catch
For the second week in a row, we saw 2019 first-round pick N’Keal Harry flash some real signs of improvement, and it feels like he’s on the verge of a breakout game.
Harry made three catches on New England’s final drive that gave them a chance to win, including a 12-yard contested reception that got the Pats down to the one-yard line. Harry already has 13 catches in two games after hauling in just 12 receptions his entire rookie year.
Although he’s leaving yards on the field as a ball carrier, Harry is starting to play to his size down the field. He’s using his big frame to box out at the catch point with more regularity, out-muscling cornerbacks at the top of his routes to make contested catches.
We are all clamoring for Harry to take one of his schemed touches for a big gain, and he’s had some opportunities on screens and passes into the flats to pick up yards after the catch.
Still, it’s Harry’s development as a downfield threat that will make the most significant impact, and he’s more comfortable running routes from various alignments while knowing how to get to his spots.
On a night where Metcalf had one of the plays of the game, it’s easy to revisit the 2019 draft and think about what the Pats should’ve done differently, but Harry is making improvements.
6. Patriots Offensive Line Keeps Cam Clean, But What About the Running Game?
First, let’s talk about the positives. Although Seattle was shorthanded up front, the offensive line was terrific in pass protection.
On initial viewing, the left side of the line with starters Isaiah Wynn and Joe Thuney was particularly stellar, and this might’ve been Wynn’s best game in the NFL to date.
Seattle’s pass-rush was so ineffective that Carroll started dropping eight into coverage because he knew his front four wasn’t creating any pressure. As the play above shows, Wynn and others gave Newton so much time that he eventually took off running or found a receiver open downfield after extending the play for as long as possible.
In all, Newton was only under pressure on eight of his 45 drop-backs, a testament to how well the offensive line protected the Pats quarterback on Sunday.
As far as the running game goes, we’ll get into the particulars once we have a chance to review the tape, but it was more about how Seattle’s defense played the Pats offense than anything.
The Seahawks weren’t going to allow the Patriots to beat them the same way New England ran over Miami, and the Pats obliged by going under center and couldn’t move Seattle’s front. Carroll’s system, usually inserting an eighth defender in the box, is also tough to run on.
Although this team needs more out of its running game, and the last play of the game was strength-on-strength with New England coming up short, the pass protection was solid.
7. Patriots Rookie Kyle Dugger’s Role is Expanding
Following his Week 1 performance, my Saturday column highlighted sixth-round pick Michael Onwenu, who had a terrific performance in the opener. However, New England’s top pick, safety Kyle Dugger, caught my eye this week.
Dugger’s athleticism and football instincts have teammates both publicly and privately raving about the young safety. On Sunday, he played 34 snaps with half of those coming in the box.
One of those plays was a terrific blitz up the middle where he upended Seahawks rookie guard Damien Lewis, who is pushing 330 pounds and is known as an extremely stout lineman. Dugger ran through him like he was a tackling dummy on his way to Wilson.
We’ll need to review the coaches tape to see how Dugger fared in coverage. But he made plays near the line of scrimmage and tackles in space that showed up on the television broadcast.
The Pats could use another impact playmaker in the middle of their defense, regardless of position, and Dugger could be that guy.
8. Patriots Lean Heavily On One Group in Particular Offensively
As the Patriots always do, they cycled through several different personnel groupings on Sunday night. However, the vast majority of their snaps came with the following skill players surrounding Newton: Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Damiere Byrd, Ryan Izzo, and Rex Burkhead. The Pats rode that group for the last three quarters of the game, and the results were good. Although the Seahawks defense is average, it was great to see Newton put up those kinds of numbers with what’s perceived to be a limited arsenal. The weapons were not the problem.
9. Patriots OC Josh McDaniels Was too Conservative Early, But Fine Late
Look, I hate harping on the play-calling. Nine times out of ten, the issues are with execution, not the play-call. When something doesn’t work, it was a bad play call, until the next time it’s successful, then McDaniels is a genius.
The Patriots offensive personnel is forcing McDaniels to win by gaining numbers with Newton as a runner, attacking angles, and designing compliments to their base schemes to keep defenses guessing. He has done great through two weeks, getting the most out of the talent on the field.
One of those compliments on Sunday night was Jakob Johnson’s first career touchdown. Maybe McDaniels should’ve saved it for later in the game, but it was a perfect call to counter New England’s QB power scheme on the goal-line by hitting Johnson on a “pop” pass.
Nevertheless, my gripe with McDaniels tonight was that he took too long to open up the passing game and was conservative early to a fault. McDaniels called runs on three third downs with more than four yards to go, including a third and eight, that killed the Patriots’ drives.
With Wilson cooking on the other sideline, and Newton finding a rhythm in the passing game, the Pats should’ve let Cam air it out sooner rather than later. If they weren’t so conservative early, Newton might’ve thrown for nearly 500 yards instead of almost 400.
The third and long runs are killers. They’re just handing the ball back to the opponent. Given the state of Seattle’s secondary, the Pats let them off the hook in the first three quarters by forcing the run.
10. Play of the Game: Cam Newton Comes Up Short on Comeback Attempt
Similarly to my take above on McDaniels, the final play-call is all about execution. The entire universe, including the 22 players on the field, knew that the Pats would run QB power with Cam as the ball carrier.
For some, it was too predictable, but ultimately, when you need a yard to win the game, it’s an 11-on-11 battle in the trenches, and if McDaniels got too cute, we would be roasting him.
Unfortunately for the Patriots, in those short-yardage situations, the low-man always wins. With only four defenders to the left of center versus five blockers, the numbers favored the Patriots.
However, Seattle was waiting for Cam, starting with edge defender Delano Hill caving in Jakob Johnson to muddy things up. Hill’s play was good, but Bobby Wagner’s was better. He shot his gap to hold up Shaq Mason on his pull on the power scheme, and Mason never got around to lead the way for Newton. The Seahawks out-muscled the Pats on the goal line and came away with the win.