The Seahawks host the Patriots in their home opener on Sunday night, a showdown between two of the league's most successful franchises over the past decade, and two teams that have undergone plenty of change since their last meeting in 2016. Both teams have turned their rosters over significantly since Seattle won in Foxborough four seasons ago, and most significantly, the Patriots have a new quarterback in Cam Newton after Tom Brady, the face of the franchise for nearly two decades, left in free agency.
To learn more about Seattle's Week 2 opponent, Seahawks.com reached out to Doug Kyed, the Patriots beat reporter for NESN with five questions about the Patriots.
We'll start with the obvious, what has Cam Newton brought to the offense, and how likely do you think it is the Patriots remain as run heavy going forward as they were in their Week 1 win over Miami?
Kyed: The Patriots' offense looked almost entirely different in Week 1 than they ever did with Tom Brady under center. Some of the traditional running concepts remain, but offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch introduced a slew of read-option looks into the fold. Newton and the Patriots went very safe in the passing game with only one throw over 20 yards all game.
The Patriots will need to deviate from what worked in Week 1 at some point, and it could even be as early as Week 2 against Seattle. The Seahawks now have Newton and the Patriots' offense on tape. So maybe this week we'll see more passing and RPO concepts or new personnel packages.
On a related note, if the Patriots do need to start leaning on the passing game more, what kind of weapons does Newton have to work with beyond Julian Edelman?
Kyed: Damiere Byrd led Patriots wide receivers in snaps, and he went untargeted. Tight end Ryan Izzo led pass catchers in snaps and only caught one pass. That says it all.
Edelman still looked like Edelman, but he was on a reduced snap count. The Patriots still haven't figured out how to properly use 2019 first-round pick N'Keal Harry, and both of the Patriots' pass-catching tight ends are rookies.
Don't be surprised if running backs James White and Rex Burkhead are prominently used as pass-catchers out of the backfield. Sony Michel is more of an early-down runner, but undersized rookie J.J. Taylor showed some potential on the ground and through the air in Week 1. The Patriots could show some "pony" packages with two running backs on the field at the same time.
Edelman is the top target. White is No. 2. Harry should be No. 3, but he's inconsistent. It gets muddled after that.
Obviously going to the Super Bowl practically every year with Tom Brady is a pretty good way to live, but do you think Bill Belichick is in some ways enjoying this new challenge late in his career of trying to get it done with a new quarterback?
Kyed: I certainly wouldn't be surprised. Patriots coaches, Belichick included, have really gone out of their way to praise Newton and say how much they've enjoyed working with the 2015 NFL MVP. Newton's introduction into the offense has really allowed the Patriots to modernize, and in some ways simplify, an offense that was getting much too difficult for inexperienced players to learn in a short timespan.
How to the Patriots feel about a defense that underwent a lot of change after a really strong 2019 season, some of it unplanned due to COVID-19 opt-outs?
Kyed: This topic brings me back to a conversation I had with a coach at the NFL Scouting Combine a few years back who insisted that it was Belichick and his system, not the talent level of defense, that makes the unit tick. And after the results of Week 1, it's hard to disagree with that assessment. A lot of talent was zapped from that unit in one offseason, but the Patriots didn't seem to miss Danny Shelton, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Patrick Chung, Dont'a Hightower or Elandon Roberts in Week 1. The Patriots still have good players, including Devin McCourty, JC Jackson and 2020 NFL defensive player of the year Stephon Gilmore, but it's a mostly no-named unit that neutralized the Dolphins on Sunday.
What are a couple of the matchups in this game you think could make the difference?
Kyed: I'm always curious to see how the Patriots will handle their coverage assignments. I'd expect to see Gilmore on DK Metcalf. Jackson could take on Tyler Lockett on the outside. When Lockett kicks inside, then perhaps Jonathan Jones would cover him with help from a safety. Joejuan Williams did a nice job against Mike Gesicki in Week 1, so perhaps he could cover Greg Olsen. The Patriots also have Jason McCourty, Adrian Phillips, Terrence Brooks and rookie Kyle Dugger in their secondary.
On the other side of the ball, I could see Marquise Blair struggling against Edelman in the slot. Edelman was a favorite target of Newton in Week 1 and can be impossible to cover in certain passing schemes.