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Breaking down Cam Newton's efficient performance against Eagles

Cam Newton showed marked improvement in the Patriots second preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles.


The Patriots came away with an impressive 35-0 win over the Eagles, capping off a productive week in Philadelphia that included two joint practice sessions. While the Eagles didn't put up much fight during the game, the Pats got a lot of quality work and faced a number of different situations that should help get them ready for the regular season kickoff in just over three weeks.

"They're all beneficial," said Bill Belichick on Friday morning of the situational experience. "There's never enough time to cover all the situations but try to do the best you can and take advantage of the ones that come up in the game because those are really great learning situations. You just don't know what it's going to be."

At the forefront of the week in Philly was Cam Newton, who was especially efficient in the second practice session, and then carried that play over onto the game field, playing 17 snaps and completing eight-of-nine passes for 103 yards and a touchdown. Despite the limited work, Newton continues to show the strides he's made after a challenging 2020 season that saw him thrown into the fire that is the Patriots offense.

Let's take a closer look at Newton's performance against the Eagles and find out why there's reason for optimism that the quarterback could be headed for a resurgent season.

The Patriots got off to a great start, thanks to a botched snap that set up Newton and the first-team offense on the Eagles' nine-yard line. Two running plays later, Damien Harris would punch it in behind some masterfully executed blocking in front of him. Newton didn't have to do much on the initial series but a quick 7-0 lead certainly helped set the tone for the game.

The defense got the ball back to the offense just three plays later, thanks to an excellent stop on third-and-one that featured great play by Carl Davis holding his ground, Davon Godchaux and Kyle Van Noy collapsing in and stoping Jordan Howard for no gain. Those are the kind of plays the Patriots defense struggled against in 2020 and it's no coincidence that three new faces were in on the stop.

Newton would come out firing with one of the more impressive throws he's made as a Patriot. Coming off play action, Newton stepped up in the pocket and found Jakobi Meyers with a strike in the middle of the field. Meyers made a good catch and absorbed a big hit, but was protected by Newton's ball placement. It was a tight window and Newton delivered the ball on time, picking up 18 yards and kickstarting the drive.

Two plays later Newton would find Kendrick Bourne on a dig route for 23 yards. This time it was a straight pass from the shotgun, as Newton progressed through multiple reads, staying comfortable in the pocket before hitting Bourne in stride. The first two throws of the game illustrated Newton's growing confidence within the Patriots system and the results were big gains.

On the very next play, Newton would drop back from under center, decisively finding Meyers on a hitch. The timing was excellent and one of the most encouraging signs of the game. Newton would often miss the open windows in 2020 due to hesitation but that was nowhere to be found on this throw, as the Patriots offense picked up another 10 yards.

After a screen pass was held to just five yards, the Patriots faced a third-and-six that would result in Newton's only incompletion of the game. This time he was a little late in getting the ball out, though the incompletion was also influenced by a quickly-closing Eagles zone defense. James White slipped out into the flat but had two defenders over him and they were able to break on the ball and deliver the hit as it arrived. Quinn Nordin would miss the ensuing field goal attempt as Newton and the offense got nothing to show for a nice drive.

That would not be the case on Newton's final series of the night, an eight-play, 66-yard touchdown drive.

The first passing play was a bit wonky, but there were some positive elements to it. Newton had quick pressure in his face coming off of play-action and made a nice move in the pocket to escape. Instead of choosing to run he tossed a pass to James White who was able to secure the ball and get a first down. Last year, Newton would've probably run with this one and there's a case to be made he should've just picked up the first down with his legs and gotten down. However, he did keep his eyes downfield and looked to get the ball in the hands of his best receiving back to let him make a play. The throw was a bit off-target, but the overall play showed his trust in the system and his desire to stay within the framework when things broke down.

Sony Michel came to life as a pass catcher on the next two plays, with Newton avoiding pressure and again stepping up in the pocket to find his checkdown on the first. On the second, another perfectly executed screen pass, Michel was able to pick up the first down. Neither play was super dynamic, but both were effective and kept the chains moving down the field. Those plays are staples of the Patriots offense.

Newton's final play and pass of the night was one of his most comfortable looking as he came off of play-action and found Jakobi Meyers on a crosser. The perfectly placed and timed throw allowed Meyers to turn upfield and finish the play off with a 28-yard touchdown. It was an ideal cap to a solid and efficient performance for the Patriots quarterback.

Cam has made clear strides in the offense this season and it was on display against the Eagles. His comfort within the pocket, within the system and progressing through his reads jumps off the screen and is a departure from the sporadic presence he often had in 2020. His lack of turnovers is another great sign, they were a big part of some of his struggles in 2020. Everything starts with taking care of the ball and that's what Newton has been doing with more and more frequency this summer.

With training camp entering its final week, Newton can continue to improve but if he stays within the system, takes what the defense gives him and uses his legs when things break down, the Patriots offense should be a lot more effective in 2021.

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