If the first step is admitting there’s a problem, the Patriots and Cam Newton absolutely have step one covered.
It may take a village to fix Cam but the lead mechanic is Jedd Fisch, the Patriots quarterbacks coach. I asked him Tuesday about Newton’s separation anxiety with the football.
“There’s clearly some times that we haven’t pulled the trigger fast enough and therefore we’re hitching a couple extra times or holding onto the ball a little bit longer than we would like to, and that kind of can cause many things,” Fisch said. “It can cause a negative play, a sack, an interception, an incompletion, a late throw.”
Newton needs more practice reps, Fisch said. But he also added that Newton has to speed things up mentally.
“He has to continue to do a better job reacting and understanding that the looks are always going to be a little bit different,” said Fisch. “They are always going to be a little bit faster on Sundays and he is going to have to quickly translate the game from the practice field to the game field. We’re all going to have to do a better job helping him there.”
In the first three weeks of Newton’s tenure as Patriots starter, we all saw what the Patriots were missing with a landlocked Tom Brady at the controls.
Newton’s running ability was showcased against Miami, had Seattle on notice and opened things up for others against the Raiders.
He remains – though only playing five of the Patriots six games – their leading rusher in yards, carries and touchdowns (50-244-5). He remains tied for fifth in the league in rushing touchdowns and is 10th in yards per carry (4.9).
But the past two games (and a chunk of the Raiders game) have highlighted the extreme differences between Brady and Newton in the passing game. Brady – after 20 years in New England – was a super-computer. He had, as he told Peter King in 2017, “the answers to the test.”
Brady was obsessive about his technique and fundamentals. He was – and is – forever in the lab trying to find the perfect motion to deliver throws with speed, accuracy and power. Buying time and shrugging off rushers? Leave that for the Newtons and the Roethlisbergers.
The Swiss watch precision of the Patriots passing game played to Brady’s strengths. Newton’s strengths are totally different.
With Brady, everything had to happen on time. With Newton, it happens when it happens. That’s worked really, really well for him and the Patriots don’t want to take it away. But they want to find the right mix of precision and creativity.
“I think what Cam has always been able to do is make the plays ‘off schedule’ as much or more than some of the plays ‘on schedule,’ “ said Fisch.
“What we’re trying to do is have that balancing act and help him find that balancing act and us as coaches also continue to build off his skillset and the rhythm and timing of the passing game is always going to be a little bit different when you’re playing with a guy like a Cam who has had such experience extending football plays and making plays that are off schedule.
“What we’re learning through this process and are trying to fast forward the learning as quickly as we possibly can is when to maybe say no,” said Fisch. “When to let a play die and then also when to be able to extend a play. Really the teaching for us, and what we’re trying to educate Cam on and what Cam is educating us on is the difference between a first-and-10 play and a third-and-long play, and the difference between a two-minute drive and call it the second drive of the second quarter. We all have to do a better job of really recognizing and learning how we can help him there and he can help himself as well.”
This stuff isn’t easy for Fisch, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels or Newton. You have a very accomplished, former MVP working for very short money and putting himself out there to learn a completely different style.
“His demeanor, his consistency as a person has not changed,” said Fisch. “His work ethic has not changed. If anything, he’s become more determined — based on how it’s been a little bit more challenging for him the last couple of weeks. … He’s really forced himself to have an unbelievable work ethic right now. Determined to be better. Determined to help our football team and we’re determined to help him around him.
“On that same token, he still has that same energy, he still has that same infectious personality, on the practice field you can still feel his energy and we have to continue to embrace that, as we are. He really has to help the guys around him get better and he has to continue to get better as well,” he added.
Newton, Fisch, McDaniels and the rest of the Patriots offense are going to need to keep that energy and determination for a long time. Because the Patriots passing game has a very, very long way to go.