The New England Patriots had more questions than any other franchise entering the 2020 season. If you asked 20 analysts and experts to break down the team, you would’ve gotten at least 10 different responses. Nobody would know how the team would adjust to life after Tom Brady.
The answer: so far, not too bad. The Patriots took a conservative approach to their opening win against the Miami Dolphins, winning 21-11. Cam Newton danced, ran and dominated the Dolphins at the line of scrimmage, and New England looked like the better team throughout.
Here are the three instant reactions to the opening week win for the Patriots.
1. Cam Newton is fun, although the offense is conservative to start
Cam Newton’s first possession showed a new wrinkle in Foxborough. That is the read-option offense, and it was effective. Newton kept Miami guessing all afternoon with how long he was able to keep the ball in his running backs gut, before pulling it back and taking it himself. He led the team in rushing in week one, and also converted the opening touchdown on a four-yard scamper.
👀 @CameronNewton‘s first TD in New England! #MIAvsNE | #GoPats pic.twitter.com/W6ED1gyUFs— New England Patriots (@Patriots) September 13, 2020
The second was an 11-yard run to open the second half, a perfect possession from McDaniels and Newton.
👀 @CameronNewton‘s second TD in New England! pic.twitter.com/PqUNvcqC8g— New England Patriots (@Patriots) September 13, 2020
What was impressive to me was the Dolphins made adjustments, and Cam still found success. Patriots fans understand the defensive genius of Miami head coach Brian Flores, who began putting five or six guys on the line of scrimmage. To start the second half, New England saw what was happening, and immediately went vintage New England and beat them over the top in play action.
The second half began as follows:
- Cam Newton over the middle to Julian Edelman for 10 yards.
- Newton over the middle to Edelman for 16 yards.
- Newton finds James White out of the backfield for 10 yards.
- Sony Michel up the middle for five yards.
- Newton to Edelman over the middle for nine yards.
Three plays later, Newton faked the play-action pass look, tucked the ball and ran right for his second touchdown (he may have been down, but the play call was still perfect). The Patriots proved that they’re going to pound the ball on the ground with Newton, Michel, White, Rex Burkhead and rookie JJ Taylor. But they also showed if you’re going to sell out on that, Newton isn’t afraid to go over the middle if your linebackers are cheating.
It was a conservative approach at first, but New England looked promising on offense. If N’Keal Harry doesn’t fumble at the one-yard line, this is a comfortable Patriots victory. The Patriots overall had 348 yards, 208 of that on the ground.
The biggest question for the Patriots is can they continue to stay ahead of opposing defenses. Their future opponents now have film on this new-look offense, and how they adjust to that is the key to their success throughout the season.
2. The secondary was solid, but questions remain
The Patriots secondary picked up right where they left off, intercepting Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick three interceptions, twice in the first half. The first was an athletic play from reigning Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore. The second was just before the end of the first half, as Fitzpatrick didn’t see safety Adrian Phillips sitting in the zone. Phillips proved solid in his first game in the Patrick Chung role, after Chung opted out of the season.
INT for @Phillips_17 in his #Patriots debut! #MIAvsNE | #GoPats pic.twitter.com/LxfVwf6fcU— New England Patriots (@Patriots) September 13, 2020
JC Jackson got the final interception in the back of the end zone to ice the game late in the fourth quarter.
The questions for the defense remain with replacing the star Patriots linebackers and finding a consistent pass rush on the defensive line. Miami’s size at the wide receiver position proved to be a problem at points attacking New England. DeVante Parker had a solid start to the game, before going down with an injury.
The pass rush also made life difficult for the secondary. They ended the game with only one sack and five quarterback hurries. The Dolphins offensive line was patched together in the offseason, and consisted of two rookies, but the Patriots still struggled to breakthrough. The Patriots have had success in the past patching together a pass rush, but that is something that will have to be adjusted going forward.
3. JJ Taylor is a weapon
Between Shane Vereen, James White and Dion Lewis, the Patriots have excelled at bringing in the quick, diminutive running backs every year. Meet the new guy in town, undrafted rookie free agent JJ Taylor. Taylor played a very limited role for the Patriots, but he was effective with almost seven yards a carry on four carries and a nice catch out of the backfield.
The rich continue to get richer, as the Patriots already had Michel, White, Burkhead and the injured Damien Harris in their backfield, but adding a guy like Taylor poses a great problem for Bill Belichick. He’ll have to juggle this loaded backfield.
(Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)