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Cam Newton is a strange fit for the New England Patriots’ existing offense

Bill Belichick, Cam Newton
Jet X Graphic, Getty Images

The Cam Newton-New England Patriots marriage is an odd one that doesn’t really fit either side, and Bill Belichick has to know this.

A quarterback who generally holds the ball too long in an offense that relies on precise route-running and timeliness isn’t exactly a match made in heaven.

As reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen, Cam Newton is the New England Patriots newest quarterback. Of course, Jarrett Stidham still lingers in the background, but the majority of pundits have already penned Newton in as the starter.

While it’s only a one-year, incentive-driven deal, calling it a marriage makes all the sense in the world. This is the NFL, where one season means the world—especially a season post-Tom Brady.

As you already know, marriage is a 50/50 proposition in today’s world—spot on for this situation.

From a pure fantasy-sports media perspective, the signing makes all the sense in the world. Newton, the 2015 league MVP, has been without an employer since the Carolina Panthers turned to former New York Jets quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Bill Belichick hasn’t had a plan at the position (other than Stidham) since Brady bolted for Tampa.

From an on-the-field perspective, the Pats’ staff now has one hell of a chore in front of it.

Newton doesn’t fit the scheme

What Brady’s done better than anybody—since the majority of today’s “offensive-driven” rules were implemented and the scoring started to go bonkers in the late 2000s—is read pre-snap defenses and quickly make a decision with precision.

Josh McDaniels’ scheme is a short, three-step offense that puts pressure on the wide receivers to read coverages and Brady to make the right decision pre and post-snap in a flash. Filled with meshes and rubs galore, everything about this offense revolves around precision.

Newton is the exact opposite-type player.

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While Brady gets rid of the ball quickly, Newton loves holding on to the ball and extending the play with his dual-threat nature. This also leads to an aggressiveness mismatch.

Brady is usually one of the least aggressive quarterbacks in the league. In 2018, Brady finished as the ninth-least aggressive quarterback (13.9%) among starters, via NFL.com’s Next Gen Stats. Newton, on the other hand, finished as the 10th most aggressive starting quarterback (17.2%).

The existing offensive scheme will have to quite literally be thrown out of the window if Newton cannot drastically change habits, and at this point, that’s a tough ask of a former league MVP and nine-year NFL vet.

Bill Belichick evolving?

It’s not that the football world thought for sure Belichick is unwilling to evolve at the quarterback position; it’s that we really had no idea.

Thanks to Tom Brady’s brilliance, Belichick hasn’t been forced to make a decision at the position. We just don’t know if he would be willing to move from a pocket-passer type to a guy who can benefit from a zone-read scheme.

McDaniels loves his gap principles. With Rob Gronkowski employed, the wham was often deployed as were plenty of counters and traps. Belichick loves the power running game as well.

Newton’s presence doesn’t mean a gap scheme and power-running identity need to disappear, but it does raise interesting questions.

  1. Is Belichick fine with risking injury to his starting quarterback?
  2. Will the zone-read be implemented?

Part of the Pats’ brilliance over the last two decades deals with Brady’s health. The man is never injured. Other than the fact he often falls down by himself when rushed, the fact he’s a pocket passer helps in that regard.

FOXBORO, MA - AUGUST 22: Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers runs onto the field before a preseason game with the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on August 22, 2014 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Greg Roman already successfully implemented the zone-read scheme once, in San Francisco with Colin Kaepernick. It worked. But once the defense caught up a bit to the edge-pressure principles (wildcat, zone-read), the likes of Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III and Tim Tebow faded away.

Roman brought it back with a vengeance in Baltimore, and it led to Lamar Jackson‘s MVP season.

Has Belichick surrendered to the ways of the dual-threat quarterback, or does he view Newton as a pocket passer? It’s a question that furthers this strange marriage.

Final thoughts

Cam Newton has never been the most accurate passer. Couple that with everything already mentioned, and the idea that this signing makes all the sense in the world goes right out the window.

Obviously, the Pats coaching staff can mold the offense to Newton, but this means changing everything about every offensive player’s existing mindset. Julian Edelman would now have to worry about breaking off routes much more instead of simply finding the soft spot in the zone in under three seconds. The offensive line would have to understand holding a block for a longer period of time becomes critical instead of pushing guys to the outside (tackles vs. edge) of a Brady who’s sure to release the ball or go down quickly.

Everything changes. No longer is Josh McDaniels offense the same dink-and-dunk scheme New York Jets fans have witnessed for years.

Will it work? Never count out Bill Belichick. But don’t act as if Andrew Luck just replaced Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers just stood up for Brett Favre. This isn’t that. There’s a lot of work to be done up north and the first several weeks of the season will showcase that work-in-progress.

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