How Cam Newton is preparing the Patriots defense for a tough 2020 schedule
By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
Football is in the heart of the age of redefining the mobile quarterback. While the standard for years was a guy like Michael Vick, who was a threat to run a shotgun snap 70 yards to the house, the definition has shifted in recent years.
The new prototype of mobile quarterbacks, or improvisors, are athletic, usually big individuals who can run around behind the line of scrimmage, eluding or shaking off defenders, waiting for things to break down and develop downfield. Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers are the ‘standard’ of this new breed of gunslingers, but about half of the NFL employs a QB cut from this cloth as their starter.
Will the New England Patriots be added to that list in 2020? Things seem to be trending that way, especially after Cam Newton was the featured quarterback for the third training camp practice in a row.
Whether or not he ends up the starter though, the reality is Newton is still in camp with the Patriots, taking snaps, working against the first team defense. That experience could end up being invaluable for New England’s defensive unit, given the team’s schedule.
The Patriots defense will need to handle a number of mobile quarterbacks this season. In their division alone, the Patriots will likely face Josh Allen twice, plus two more games versus either Tua Tagovailoa or the pocket magician extraordinaire himself Ryan Fitzpatrick.
In facing 2019 AFC divisional winners, Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson are on the schedule as well, not to mention Lamar Jackson, who is more the old-school Michael Vick-style mobile QB. Throw in cross-conference games against the Seahawks (Russell Wilson) and Cardinals (Kyler Murray), and at least half of the Patriots schedule will come against improvising QBs.
In past years, the Patriots have never had a quarterback on the roster who could truly simulate the experience of facing such an opponent. In Newton, they’ve added one, and at just the right time.
It takes a different mental approach to defend mobile quarterbacks, and now the Patriots secondary will have a chance to work regularly against one as they prepare for the season.
“I think for a corner sometimes, you have an internal clock in your head when the ball is snapped of typically how long the quarterback is going to hold onto the ball,” Patriots cornerback Jason McCourty told reporters on Sunday. “I think those quarterbacks, like Cam, like a lot of quarterbacks around the league — when they have the ability to extend plays and receivers are either able to shoot back to the ball or shoot upfield, it kind of becomes sandlot football.”
“That makes it very tough on the corner, because now you’re maybe covering a guy for maybe 10 seconds,” McCourty continued. “The receivers in our league are tough enough to be able to hold onto to stay with for a quick three-step drop, so being able to hold and being able to stick with a guy for an extended play makes it very tough.”
In losses against Mahomes, Watson, Jackson, and Fitzpatrick in 2019, the Patriots struggled to contain the dynamic playmaking ability under center. With Cam Newton giving them a better opportunity to prepare in 2020, are the Patriots set up to better handle the elite teams and quarterbacks in the AFC? Early indications are, his contributions to the team could reach beyond what he adds if named the starter for the start of the season.