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“Get the Ball to Damiere”
The Patriots’ passing numbers have been putrid this season. They rank 26th in the NFL in passing yards per game and have just three TDs through the air in 2020. A ton of that has to do with the impact COVID-19 has had on the team’s health and practice opportunities, but there is some blame to put on the receivers and the quarterback play.
A bulk of the latter falls on the broad shoulders of Newton. He’s had one particularly bad game, and that was the Week 6 loss to the Denver Broncos. Newton admitted he hadn’t been very good, and while that was probably a harsh criticism of his own play on a whole, it was true of that particular performance.
One issue the Patriots have had is they haven’t shown the ability to consistently stretch the field. The team doesn’t have an elite receiver, but analytics and a detailed analysis of the All-22 film shows one guy, in particular, has created some opportunities for himself, but for whatever reason, Newton hasn’t connected with him enough.
According to Seth Walder of ESPN Sports Analytics, Byrd is No. 1 in average depth, three seconds after the snap when running a route.
This means that Byrd is getting into his route quickly, not being held up at the line of scrimmage, and getting deep and open more often than any other receiver in the NFL. CLNS’ Evan Lazar has been trumpeting Byrd as a viable option for the past week, and he chimed in with information that supports Walder’s stats.
Others have shared similar sentiments:
Targets Down for Damiere Byrd
So far this season, Byrd has been targeted 26 times, which is third on the team behind Julian Edelman (36) and N’Keal Harry (30). Byrd has 17 receptions on those targets for 217 yards and no touchdowns.
A closer look at the tape would suggest Byrd is open far more often than most fans believe because they don’t have the access or the time to view these assets.
Why is Newton Missing Byrd?
Quite honestly, Newton has traditionally leaned hard on his bigger targets and the more established receivers. The latter is likely the reason he looks for Edelman so often. The 35-year-old veteran is one of the faces of the franchise, and his experience has likely created a comfort zone for Newton.
Harry and Newton have become close and have established a big-brother-little-brother relationship. Harry is also the kind of big-body receiver that Newton has had success with, similar to Devin Funchess and Kelvin Benjamin with the Carolina Panthers. However, Harry hasn’t proven to be quite as effective as those two guys.
Byrd, unfortunately, doesn’t fit in either of those categories, and that might explain why Newton isn’t seeing or looking for him as often as he should. If Lazar and others are seeing this on film, you can bet Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and QB coach Jedd Fisch are as well. That means, we’re likely to see Newton attempt to make these adjustments on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.
There will be a ton of things to watch for in this game, but that might just be the most important one for the team’s immediate and long-term success in 2020.
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