Patriots: Analyzing the variety of play calling McDaniels has at his disposal with Newton

Cam Newton #1 of the New England Patriots talks with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels during the second half against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on September 13, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Cam Newton #1 of the New England Patriots talks with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels during the second half against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on September 13, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

Josh McDaniels will have a variety of plays and offensive schemes with Cam Newton playing quarterback for the Patriots.

Josh McDaniels has been referenced as an offensive play calling guru by many people in New England throughout his 17 years as the offensive coordinator for the Patriots…and rightfully so. But now, with a multidimensional quarterback under center in Cam Newton, McDaniels is able to dust off the fun and electric plays from the back of his playbook that he has been waiting ever so patiently to utilize with the Patriots.

Despite not receiving any other clear-cut offers from teams in the NFL this past offseason, Newton has said that McDaniels is a big reason he elected to sign with the Patriots in the first place. It’s fair to say that McDaniels’ keen sense of offensive schemes and play calling is widely recognized throughout the league, and Newton proves that.

In the first week of the season, the NFL world saw something from the Patriots for the first time in the Bill Belichick coaching era in New England: a modernized offense with a mobile quarterback who can run the read-option at an elite level. In doing so, Newton became the first Patriots quarterback to rush for at least 75 yards in a game since Steve Grogan was under center in 1977, when he ran for 81 yards against the Buffalo Bills.

Newton’s 15 rushing attempts ties his career high (15 in 2014) and is also the most ever by a Patriots quarterback in New England’s history as a franchise. He quickly turned 13 designed runs (and two scrambles) into 75 yards and two touchdowns in the Pats’ 21-11 victory over the Dolphins in Week 1.

Although it proved to be effective, McDaniels and the Patriots did more with Newton than just run the ball. He connected on 15 of a league-low 19 pass attempts for 155 yards with zero interceptions. Newton’s 19 attempts were the lowest by a Patriots starting quarterback since Jacoby Brissett early on in the 2016 season.

The only problem with the Patriots playing a conservative run-heavy offense is the chance of becoming too predictable as the team progresses throughout the season. Now that teams have seen that the Pats are willing to run 42 times a game with Newton being the lead rusher, they’re going to start preparing and game planning specifically for the run.

A major issue looming over the Pats right now is the lack of wide receiver talent and overall depth in the position. To utilize their best wide receiver in Julian Edelman, who saw a team high seven targets, McDaniels called for a wide receiver end-around where Edelman gained 23 yards on the ground.

The play was masterful on McDaniels’ part, who saw a congested Miami defense crowding the box. He knew Edelman was being shadowed by cornerback Jamal Perry and that he would get caught in the mix in the middle of the defense trying to keep up with Edelman.

This end-around play isn’t anything we haven’t seen before from the Patriots. The only difference is that whether there is motion or not, any defense has to respect Newton as being a run-threat when he’s in shotgun. Having an elite runner at the quarterback position allows an offense to essentially control linebackers on the other side of the ball, and that’s exactly what McDaniels and Newton did.

Compared to the past 20 years, there wasn’t a team in the NFL who feared they were going to get beat on the run from Patriots legend Tom Brady. Brady was an accurate sniper when it came to hitting his targets, but being mobile was never a factor in his overall game.

McDaniels knows that he can’t run Newton 15 times a game or use the same game plan week in and week out, too. He expressed just that in a video conference on Tuesday afternoon.

"“Really what it is, it’s more a function of what we feel like is best to do against a specific opponent we’re playing. I know we did some things we really haven’t done much of around here for a long time, or maybe ever. But that’s just a function of using the players you have to the best of your ability against the scheme and the opponent you’re playing. I would say, we’re going to be in the same boat we always are, which is, we try to adjust appropriately, change from week to week based on what we think gives us the best chance to have success.” – Josh McDaniels, per Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald"

With an established rushing attack, the passing game should open up much more for the Patriots — especially the play-action. It’s fair to say that the Patriots could use an additional receiver on their roster (perhaps a veteran) that’ll give both Newton and McDaniels another option for their arsenal.

But for now, McDaniels understands his personnel, and is able to use it to his advantage when it comes to calling in plays for his offense — which’ll likely include more variety moving forward.