With Cam Newton Signing, Are Patriots Following Ravens' Offensive Blueprint?
When the Ravens installed a run-heavy offense tailored to dual-threat quarterback Lamar Jackson's unique skill set last year, it was often described as the team zigging when the rest of the pass-happy league was zagging. Does Cam Newton signing with New England mean the Patriots will be zagging, too?
It's often said that the NFL is a copycat league, but following the Ravens' offensive blueprint is easier said than done because few quarterbacks can do what Jackson does. Newton, though, is one of the league's most similar.
So after two decades of being the team others in the league would attempt to emulate, are the Patriots and Head Coach Bill Belichick looking to model their offense after the Ravens?
The Ringer’s Robert Mays thinks so.
"New England's personnel looks a lot like the offense the Ravens have built around Lamar Jackson. And that doesn't feel like an accident," Mays wrote. " … The Patriots have always tried to stay ahead of the curve, but with [Tom] Brady in place, the scope of those changes was limited. Each iteration of the Patriots offense was a slight variant of its predecessor, grafted onto the same, Brady-shaped foundation.
"Bringing in Newton represents the first real departure from that approach in more than 20 years. Now, the ideal version of their offense will look a lot like what the Ravens have: a power running game built around a do-everything quarterback, and vertical play-action shots that stem from that running game."
ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky expressed a similar sentiment.
"Feel like Patriots may often look like the Ravens on offense at moments," Orlovsky tweeted. "Three tight ends on the field, misdirection, shifts, motion, with downhill run plus quarterback run and (play action) shots."
Perhaps the Patriots signing a dual-threat quarterback shouldn't come as a surprise considering they reportedly were very high on Jackson leading up to the 2018 draft.
"When the Patriots were evaluating Lamar Jackson in 2018, they liked him, but knew they'd have to flip their offensive scheme upside down if they were going to draft him. So they've considered switching things up in the past," Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer wrote. "If Cam wins the job, the Pats will accommodate him."
NFL’s Bucky Brooks expects the Patriots "will run the ball relentlessly at the defense" with power and bootlegs, mixed in with play-action passes. "But the new-school flair comes with their ability to now get into shotgun, do some RPOs, do some quarterback-designed runs, some zone-read things that we've never seen from the Patriots."
NESN’s Sean T. McGuire agreed that New England appears to be constructing an offense similar to Baltimore's, but he thinks it will be difficult to have the same success as the Ravens, who set a single-season rushing record last season, thanks in large part to Jackson setting the single-season rushing record for a quarterback en route to winning the league MVP award.
"With Newton being the biggest offseason addition for the Patriots, the selection of tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene in the NFL Draft make for some similarities to Baltimore, who used multi-tight end sets extensively last season," McGuire wrote. "And there's no doubt Newton, like Jackson, will help the Patriots' skill position players with his dual-threat ability. But even with that said, the 2020 Patriots have a long way to go if they want to resemble the 2019 Ravens, who were the No. 1 ranked offense in the NFL."
As Breer alluded to, there's no guarantee Newton will even be the Patriots' starter (although he has to be considered the favorite). Newton, the 2015 NFL MVP as a member of the Carolina Panthers, will compete for the job with second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham and veteran Brian Hoyer. There are also health concerns, as the 31-year-old Newton was limited to two games last season due to a Lisfranc fracture, and he's undergone shoulder and foot surgeries over the past two years.
Newton likely wouldn't run as much as Jackson, or as effectively. He's a much bigger-bodied runner who has taken more punishment.
Before the injuries, Newton was drawing comparisons to Michael Vick, just like Jackson has since entering the league in 2018. Newton held the record for most rushing attempts by a quarterback (139 in 2017) before Jackson surpassed him in 2018 (147) and 2019 (176).
As a reminder, the Ravens visit New England in a Sunday night matchup this season.
"The prime-time matchup between the Ravens and Patriots in Week 10 got an even bigger boost with Cam Newton entering the fray," Sports Illustrated’s Todd Karpovich wrote.
Three Ravens Among AFC North's Impact Rookies
NFL.com’s Charley Casserly looked at which rookies in the AFC North will make an impact this season, and he identified three Ravens. None of the Ravens' division rivals had more than two rookies on Casserly's list.
Linebackers Patrick Queen, the No. 28-overall pick, and third-round selection Malik Harrison could be a formidable duo, Casserly wrote.
"[Queen's] athletic ability will allow him to match up with running backs and tight ends in coverage," Casserly wrote. "And though he is undersized, his instincts and speed -- coupled with the ability of offseason additions Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe to tie up blockers at the line -- will allow Queen to run free and be a factor against the run, too.
"[Harrison] could very well start at the other inside linebacker position opposite Queen. Harrison, a true run stopper and physical presence at the point of attack, is a different style of player than Queen."
Casserly also expects second-round running back J.K. Dobbins to be a valuable addition.
"The former Ohio State star will mix into the rotation with Mark Ingram. However, Dobbins is a more explosive runner than Ingram and can provide big gains, especially with dual threat Lamar Jackson creating big holes in the defense," Casserly wrote. "Dobbins will be especially valuable if Ingram gets injured or slows down in his age-30 season."
Calais Campbell Has Experience With Staying Focused After Postseason Disappointment
When the Ravens acquired Campbell in a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason, they knew they weren't just getting one of the best defensive ends in the league; they were getting a veteran leader who can impart the lessons he's learned over 12 NFL seasons to the team's younger players.
One such lesson is how to bounce back after faltering in the postseason.
"I have some experience I can share with the guys," Campbell, 33, said on Sirius XM NFL Radio, via NFL.com’s Kevin Patra. "You know, cause going 14-2, but not winning, you don't get to start back at 14-2, you gotta start back at 0-0. You have to earn your way to that level again. I feel like I have had a lot of experience over the years of the good and bad and just how to prepare and stay focused."
Campbell, who has been to one Super Bowl and three conference championship games, has yet to be on a Super Bowl-winning team, but he reiterated that the Ravens give him his best shot.
"I mean, the team is talented ... the coaches are great," Campbell said. "And it really comes down to execution and just setting yourself apart. During this time right now with COVID when it all became virtual, nobody can go into the building.
"Right now it really comes down to maturity, who's going to put the time in, who's going to put the effort in to be able to put themselves in position when we do come back not to miss a beat. Be able to just pick up and go. I don't know if a lot of people are doing that right now, but I really feel like in Baltimore, we're in a really good position."
The No. 1 Regular-Season Moment in Ravens History
To commemorate the Ravens' 25th season, WNST’s Luke Jones has been counting down the top 25 regular-season moments in the franchise's history. Coming in at No. 1 was the thrilling 39-36 victory over the Jaguars during the Ravens' Super Bowl-winning season in 2000.
No team had frustrated the Ravens more than the Jaguars, their rivals in the old AFC Central. The Ravens entered that Week 2 game at M&T Bank Stadium with an 0-8 mark against Jacksonville, which was coming off a 14-2 season and four straight playoff appearances. The Ravens, who began play one year after the Jaguars' inception, had yet to have a winning season.
Through the first two quarters, it looked like more of the same, as Baltimore fell behind, 23-7, at the half. However, quarterback Tony Banks led a furious rally that gave the Ravens a 32-29 lead with under four minutes remaining in the game.
What happened in those final minutes proved to be a turning point for the Baltimore franchise.
"After picking up a first down to move into Ravens territory and now facing a third-and-6 from the 40 with 1:55 to go, [Jaguars quarterback Mark] Brunell faced a heavy blitz and heaved one deep toward wide receiver Keenan McCardell," Jones wrote. "What happened next seemed to be the cruelest trick yet in the Ravens-Jaguars history, as the ball deflected off McCardell's hands and right to [wide receiver Jimmy] Smith, who broke a Duane Starks tackle and jogged into the end zone for the go-ahead score. It was Smith's third touchdown catch of the day as he finished with a whopping 15 catches and 291 yards, the most by an opponent in Ravens history."
What appeared to be another bitter loss ended up being the Ravens' sweetest victory to that point, as Banks hooked up with tight end Shannon Sharpe on a 29-yard touchdown pass – Banks' fifth of the game – with 41 seconds left to give the Ravens the win.
"The last-minute win over Jacksonville had changed everything," Jones wrote. "Now two decades later, the Ravens own two Super Bowl championships, have multiple Hall of Famers, and are among the NFL's model franchises. But that was the moment that started it all."