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New England Patriots

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

In Week 1, the Patriots’ ground game dominated their attack. But against the Seahawks, the majority of the Patriots’ offense came off the arm of Cam Newton.

It wasn’t totally unpredictable. Russell Wilson’s dominant game forced the Patriots to throw more as the game went along. But at the same time, the Patriots morph their game plan each week according to opponent, and running the ball predictably proved futile against the Seahawks’ defensive front.

So the Patriots turned Newton loose, resulting in 46 passing plays and 25 runs. And while they mixed up their personnel groupings, they rarely changed the players used within them. Some of that was by necessity, particularly at running back, where James White was inactive and Damien Harris remains on injured reserve.

Cam Newton and Julian Edelman huddle with Patriots teammates during pregame warmups before the game against the Seattle Seahawks. (Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)

Cam Newton and Julian Edelman huddle with Patriots teammates during pregame warmups before the game against the Seattle Seahawks. (Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)

Josh McDaniels still showed a few new things of note, and overall the Pats offense took a step forward while proving capable of hanging with a superb opposing offense in the passing game. Read below for a more detailed breakdown of the Patriots’ personnel packages.

Snap Counts

Based on personnel groupings, the Patriots offense resembled more of what we saw in 2019 with Tom Brady. Heavy use of three-receiver sets. Much of it came in no-huddle/hurry-up situations. But McDaniels continued to sprinkle in heavier packages, particularly around the goal line. Here’s how it broke down, based on 71 snaps, including a two-point conversion and not including a kneeldown.

11 personnel: 49 snaps (69 percent)
21 personnel: 8 snaps (11.3 percent)
14 personnel: 5 snaps (7.0 percent)
12 personnel: 4 snaps (5.6 percent)
22 personnel: 3 snaps (4.2 percent)
10 personnel: 2 snaps (2.8 percent)

N’Keal Harry led all wide receivers with 62 snaps, with Damiere Byrd a close second at 61. Julian Edelman saw a bump with 52 snaps, including 13 on running plays. Harry out-snapped Byrd by one thanks to a unique grouping that featured RB Rex Burkhead, FB Jakob Johnson, TE Ryan Izzo, and Harry/Edelman at WR in 21 personnel. The play was a pass attempt to Edelman on the first drive of the third quarter, which Edelman dropped.

One of the biggest “losers” in terms of usage was RB Sony Michel, who played only 14 snaps to Burkhead’s 51, despite the Pats’ limited depth at the position. Michel played four snaps on passing plays and Newton targeted him once, on the first play from scrimmage of the second half – but the pass was tipped.

Rex Burkhead led all Patriots running backs with 51 offensive snaps against the Seahawks in the new Cam Newton-led offense. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Rex Burkhead led all Patriots running backs with 51 offensive snaps against the Seahawks in the new Cam Newton-led offense. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

The Patriots ran three snaps in 22 personnel (two RBs, two TEs), again using rookie offensive lineman Mike Onwenu as an extra blocker on all three.

Running and Passing

It’s not surprising that the Patriots threw out of their three-receiver sets almost 80 percent of the time. But it is a departure from Week 1, when they ran more than they passed out of that grouping. This game was a bit more “traditional” in that sense. They passed on 64.8 percent of snaps overall, indicating that they favored the run in every other personnel grouping.

11 personnel: 77.6 percent pass (38-of-49)
21 personnel: 62.5 percent run (5-of-8)
14 personnel: 80 percent run (4-of-5)
12 personnel: 75 percent pass (3-of-4)
22 personnel: 100 percent run (3-of-3)
10 personnel: 50/50 (1 pass, 1 run)

The Patriots added a passing wrinkle to their king-sized 14 personnel package, which included both active tight ends and two extra offensive linemen to go with Johnson at fullback. They’ve mostly put the ball in Newton’s hands in this formation, but busted out the surprise pass to Johnson against the Seahawks. Seattle ended up stopping the package on the game’s final play, but the TD pass to Johnson at least will make defenses account for that moving forward.

Sep 20, 2020; Seattle, Washington, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton (1) is tackled shy of the goal line for the final play of a 35-30 loss against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Cam Newton was allowed to open up more in the passing game in the Patriots’ loss to the Seahawks. (Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)

That McDaniels called a pass on three out of four snaps in 12 personnel (one RB, two TEs) shows that, like last season, the Patriots still want to throw out of two-tight end sets. Ryan Izzo dominated TE snaps again, playing on all but two offensive snaps in 10 personnel (one RB, four WRs). Still no targets for rookie TE Devin Asiasi, who played nine snaps, mostly as a blocker. But perhaps McDaniels is grooming the third-round pick to eventually cut loose as a pass-catcher.

They could certainly use that dimension in their passing attack at some point, because Izzo may not be consistent enough in that department.

Third Down

The Patriots passed seven out of 12 times on third down, which may actually be kind of low. There were a couple of surprising play-calls, such as a pitch to Burkhead on third-and-8 in the fourth quarter that fell way short. But it’s not surprising that the Pats went with 11 personnel on nine of their 12 third-down snaps.

Newton converted 5-of-7 through the air and was sacked once. One of their passing conversions came in 10 personnel, which actually went to Burkhead. The Patriots were only 2-for-5 converting on the ground, both of them coming in 14 personnel. One of those conversions was on third-and-goal, when Newton punched it in for his third rushing touchdown of the season.

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 20: Cam Newton #1 of the New England Patriots runs with the ball during the first half against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on September 20, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Cam Newton runs with the ball during the first half against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on September 20, 2020. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Easily the most popular grouping of the game, and the most common on third down, was Burkhead, Izzo, Byrd, Edelman, and Harry (43 snaps). But one of the team’s bright spots in these situations was second-year wideout Jakobi Meyers, who played seven snaps – three on third down. He made one catch to convert a third down in the second half.

Drive Chart

The table below illustrates how the Patriots leaned more into their no-huddle and hurry-up offense more as the game went along, particularly in the second half. They went with their go-to 11 personnel package (Burkhead, Izzo, Byrd, Edelman, Harry) in those situations.

Drive 10 11 12 14 21 22 Result
1. 0 5 0 1 4 2 TD
2. 0 1 1 0 0 1 Punt
3. 2 4 1 0 0 0 FG Miss
4. 0 0 1 0 0 0 End Half
5. 0 9 1 0 2 0 FG Good
6. 0 5 0 0 1 0 INT
7. 0 5 0 2 0 0 TD
8. 0 5 0 0 1 0 Punt
9. 0 6 0 1 0 0 TD
10. 0 9 0 1 0 0 End Game

You can see that the Pats quickly moved away from 21 and 22 personnel in favor of more receiver-based packages, which became more necessary once the Seahawks went ahead in the game. The Pats went no-huddle in 11 personnel on four of six second-half drives.

Season Totals

The personnel package to watch in this regard is 12 personnel. It can be expected that the current trends will hold in “11” and “21,” with the majority of plays in “11” going through the air and most plays in “21” coming on the ground. But in “12,” there’s almost an even split of runs and passes.

Snap Counts (134 Total)

11 personnel: 78 snaps (58.2 percent)
21 personnel: 28 snaps (20.9 percent)
12 personnel: 13 snaps (9.7 percent)
14 personnel: 7 snaps (5.2 percent)
22 personnel: 4 snaps (3.0 percent)
10 personnel: 3 snaps (2.2 percent)
23 personnel: 1 snap (0.8 percent)

Run/Pass

11 personnel: 64.1 percent pass (50-of-78)
21 personnel: 69.7 percent run (19-of-28)
12 personnel: 53.8 percent run (7-of-13)
14 personnel: 85.7 percent run (6-of-7)
22 personnel: 100 percent run (4-of-4)
10 personnel: 66.7 percent pass (2-of-3)
23 personnel: 100 percent run (1-of-1)

The trend in 12 personnel is a continuation of last season, which is interesting, considering the Patriots’ continued roster turnover and infusion of young talent at tight end. It will be interesting to see if Newton starts to target that position more in the coming weeks.

Next Week: We’ll have another Package Report for you next Monday, after the Patriots take on The Las Vegas Raiders at Gillette Stadium.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff or send him a nasty email at matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.