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Raiders-Patriots: Previewing the New England offense

Oh, you were expecting a picture of Cam Newton?

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New England Patriots v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

If I haven’t yet moved my fingers on my keyboard in the correct order for an article on this website to tell you that I dislike predictions, then let this be the combination of finger movements and corresponding sentence that allows me to do so: I dislike predictions. However, I have unfortunately at this time been unable to cure myself of the disease that forces my brain to consider the future anyway.

Though I have no predictions to offer, this rotten brain of mine does have opinions about what will happen tomorrow and next week and even after the sun burns out and Al Davis’ memorial at Allegiant Stadium is the last remaining relic of a civilization that died out countless millennia prior.

And somewhere in between Stanley Kubrick throwing us a bone and the end of all, I had thoughts about how the 2020 AFC East would play out.

From this corporeal flaw that I am emerged thoughts that not even the combined efforts of all four teams in the division — an all-AFC East superteam — could compete for the Super Bowl. What the East had in cornerbacks and safeties, it lacked in quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, tight ends, offensive linemen, defensive linemen and linebackers.

And then the all-AFC East team lost their best safety to the NFC West.

Now through two games, my once pleasant eight hours of blissful sleep has turned into a tossing and turning and traipsing through nightmares of a Josh Allen rain of terror (not a typo because the Bills are firing Allen missiles from above to squash the hopes of squints so hard that my eyelids revert to the inside of my sockets the Jets and Dolphins) and Cam Newton reining in errors to complete a higher percentage of passes than I thought possible without Christian McCaffrey.

Buffalo hasn’t beaten impressive teams, but Allen has been impressive and their defense is better than my feeble, functionless mind was forecasting not a fortnight ago.

The Las Vegas Raiders can wait at least three more days until they begin to focus on the Bills however, as getting that win is not their objective until Week 4. Up next is the pre-Josh Allen Josh Allen, Cam Newton.

Cam Newton, QB

2020: 45 of 63, 552 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 8.8 Y/A, 7.76 ANY/A, 3 sacks, 26 rush attempt, 122 yards, 4 TD

Speaking of poor predictions, I wasted words and moments of my life this summer when I said that both Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer would start over Cam Newton this season. Not at the same time of course, but first I picked Stidham and then later said that Hoyer would eventually start the most games at quarterback for New England. It doesn’t mean that Bill Belichick can’t start both Stidham and Hoyer at the same time, over Newton, it just means that Belichick doesn’t because he’s a coward.

My reasons for not having Newton optimism are simple. I never had much Newton optimism, which coincidentally is also a phrase meaning that you believe it’s good when fruit hits you in the head, and felt that he had reached a high point in 2015 with a string of underwhelming campaigns to follow. That prediction might give my brain one spike on the EKG for accuracy but Newton has clearly won people over again.

I do not quite understand how this plan is meant to work for 17 weeks — Newton is averaging 13 carries per game and his career-high in that category is 8.7 and I thought his body was meant to be so torn up that he’s essentially in a Robocop situation — but for now he leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns and his 397 passing yards against the Seattle Seahawks was not all dumpoffs and YAC.

(Sidenote: Please tune into my morning drive time program “Early in the AM with Dump-Offs and the Yak”)

Now that I have given credit where partial credit is due, I must also bring light to the fact that the Seahawks defense gave up 450 passing yards to Matt Ryan in Week 1 and their pass rush could be the worst in the league and that New England’s Week 1 opponent, the Dolphins, just allowed Josh Allen to post-Cam Newton Josh Allen? Miami is right there with Seattle in pass defense prowess as far as I can tell.

As to his presence in the run game, that has been much more consistent than his presence in the passing game and the Patriots plan for the passing game. In Week 1, Newton went 15-of-19 with 5.3 intended air yards per attempt. In Week 2, Newton went 30-of-44 with 8 iay/a.

But as a runner, it’s been about the same:

In Week 1, Newton had 15 carries for 75 yards and only one of those was a scramble.

In Week 2, Newton had 11 carries for 47 yards and only two of those were scrambles. That is 14 designed runs against nine designed runs for the quarterback. Belichick is known for changing his game plans based on opponent, how will he choose to attack the Raiders?

Coincidentally, Las Vegas has faced two quarterbacks this season that started for the Saints last season. Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Brees also both posted higher iay/a against the Raiders than they did in their other game this season. Neither showed a huge jump, about one yard, but perhaps they did feel more comfortable throwing downfield if Paul Guenther was giving those yards up.

Perhaps it is nothing. Bridgewater threw fewer attempts against Vegas than he did his other opponent, Brees threw more times against the Raiders than he did his other opponent.

My feebly human brain might predict that Newton feels comfortable and confident in passing the ball after that game against Seattle and that he won’t be inclined to slow down considerably against the Las Vegas defense, which up to this point has proven only that it is far from a fully realized utopia. The Raiders are 29th in passing yards allowed, 27th in net yards per pass attempt allowed and 24th in yards per carry allowed.

What bright future the Raiders do have with their relatively inexperienced starters on defense is still barely visible from here.

If an orange were to fall on Cam Newton’s head Sunday morning, I imagine that will be two reasons for Newton optimism that day.

Sony Michel, RB

Rex Burkhead, RB

J.J. Taylor, RB

James White, RB

White has been absent from practice this week as he continues to cope with the loss of his father and care for his mother following a tragic car accident on Sunday. His status for this Sunday is not known but one source I read said he wasn’t expected to play. If White does play, he changes the equation below because he is probably the Patriots best running back.

Every once in a while it hits me that Sony Michel’s first name is Sony. I like the name, it’s just interesting how “celebrity” names are often taken as a whole. It’s more like a brand or a label and the way my brain hears it is not as two parts. Plus, we as fans never call them by their first name unless it is those rare cases such as “Cam.” They go by “Sony Michel” or “Michel” but rarely just Sony and that was something that only occurred to me recently.

Oh, you want to talk about the football side of things. Come into my football home then.

The order of running backs in the 2018 draft went Saquon Barkley, Rashaad Penny, Sony Michel and then Nick Chubb. If “running backs don’t matter” then are you telling me that Nick Chubb drew the best situation out of those four?

Michel is dangerously close to gone for Belichick. Last season he was consistent in that he’d get four yards per carry but he has nothing beyond that. In the first two games, he hasn’t even been dependable for four yards and he had seven carries for 19 yards last week. Michel has 34 offensive snaps this season, which is about half as many as he got last year per game on average.

This doesn’t necessarily bode “well” for Burkhead, who had six carries for two yards last week against the Seahawks. Burkhead did play 51 snaps though and catch four passes for 47 yards, but with Belichick we can’t predict (remember that word? bet you didn’t see that coming again) that he won’t start Taylor next.

He’s an undrafted free agent rookie out of Arizona who was productive but not explosive in college. The Patriot already know they can draft productive-but-not-explosive backs in the first round but they also wanted to sign one, I guess.

Julian Edelman, WR

N’Keal Harry, WR

Damiere Byrd, WR

Jakobi Meyers, WR

I got to get this out of the way first: there is a billboard near where I live for Jacoby & Meyers injury lawyers and not only does it remind me of Jakobi Meyers, but Blayne gave them five stars.

Edelman and Harry are the team’s top two receivers but were limited in practice on Thursday with knee and ankle injuries, respectively. Both set career-highs against the Seahawks and if healthy, I’d expect Newton to continue that plan against Vegas.

So far those have been regular targets for Newton, getting 18 attempts each, with Byrd catching 6 of 9 for 72 yards this season. The difference has been that Edelman has gained 236 yards to Harry’s 111, meaning he has over twice the yards per catch and target. No other wide receiver on the team besides these three has more than one target. If Edelman and/or Harry are inactive, Meyers, a player hyped over the last two training camps but who hasn’t shown much in the regular season yet, would be next.

And I heard Blayne’s into that.

Ryan Izzo, TE

Don’t be fooled into thinking “once a two tight end team, always a two tight end team.” I know that’s kind of an old legend that’s been passed down for generations, that people who discovered countries and founded/destroyed kingdoms had told their soldiers, “Well, once a two tight end team, always a two tight end team.”

But much like the importance of a strong slot cornerback, things are different in the modern NFL. The Patriots don’t have to have two tight ends.

Izzo has played in 97.8-percent of the snaps. Devin Asiasi is second at 14.7-percent. There is no third. Izzo was a seventh round pick in 2018, made his debut in 2019 and only played in six games, now is Rob Gronkowski’s “replacement.” Despite his playing time, Izzo has caught three of four targets.

Don’t be fooled into thinking the Patriots are always a Rob Gronkowski team. (I am the fool.)

Isaiah Wynn, LT

Joe Thuney, LG

David Andrews, C

Shaq Mason, RG

Jermaine Eluemunor, RT

New England really has four regular offensive linemen and then Eluemunor rotates with Michael Onwenu, a rookie sixth round pick out of Michigan who has drawn positive reviews and could be stealing the job away.

Andrews is dealing with a hand injury and it is not guaranteed he will play on Sunday. If not, the backup is Hjalte Froholdt, a fourth round pick in 2019 and maybe a character on Dark.

When I wasn’t bright enough to see the strengths in the AFC East, I had to at least give credit to the Patriots offensive line. It is good, unlike me.