(CBS)- Three weeks into the season, the Patriots are right in the thick of things as usual in the AFC with a 2-1 record. With new quarterback Cam Newton at the helm, the offense looks much different than what we’ve come to expect from the team in year’s past but it’s been effective, ranking as Football Outsiders fourth-most efficient unit in the league by DVOA.
The difference with Cam has been noticeable on the sidelines as well as NFL on CBS lead sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson notes, the Patriots have a “different level of energy” thanks to their new QB.
“The emotions and the smiles and what he brings and the cheering and the hugs. I saw him hug Josh McDaniels after a touchdown last week. I don’t know the last time I saw Brady and Josh McDaniels hugging except maybe after the Super Bowl,” said Wolfson in an interview with CBS Local’s Ryan Mayer. “It’s interesting to watch. I think you can tell Josh McDaniels is having a lot of fun with this offense and just coming up with different ways to win. You have seen the many different ways Cam is able to help the team.”
Those different ways of helping the team have showed up in each of the first three weeks as the offense has adapted to its opponents in interesting ways. Against the Dolphins in Week 1, it was Newton’s running ability and a punishing ground game that racked up 217 yards on 5.2 yards per carry with a whopping 34:49 in time of possession.
In Week 2, even in a loss to the Seahawks, Newton impressed with his arm throwing for 397 yards with a touchdown and an interception while adding another two scores on the ground.
And last week, it was the team’s running backs that were effective, totaling 209 yards on 17 carries split between Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead and J.J. Taylor.
That multi-faceted offensive approach should serve the team well in what looks to be a tough Week 4 matchup in Kansas City against the Chiefs. As expected, Patrick Mahomes and company are once again causing nightmares for opponents due to the variety of options. But, Wolfson, who was on the call when the Chiefs played the Chargers in Week 2, pointed to that game as one Patriots coach Bill Belichick is likely to study for insight into how to slow the Chiefs.
“It’s not like they haven’t played each other in the past. I think Bill is going to go through those games and see what they were able to do, what was successful and what was not. I think he will go to the Chargers a little bit and that game in Week 2 because they were able to do a really good job on the Chiefs into that third quarter,” said Wolfson.
The consistent saying about Belichick is that he focuses on taking away the other team’s best option. With the Chiefs, that can be hard to decipher. But, Wolfson notes that containing Mahomes and forcing the game to be based more on the running game is a possible avenue.
However, the bigger option she points out lies with McDaniels, Newton and the offense. Control the clock.
“The number one thing is, you have to switch to the offense of the Patriots, and say just keep Mahomes off the field,” said Wolfson. “If you can do that, you can have some success. If you can have some long drives offensively and keep them off the field as long as possible.”
The Patriots have shown an ability to do that this season and the Chiefs have shown some vulnerability against the run allowing the Texans, Chargers and Ravens to rip off 118, 183 and 158 yards respectively on the ground in the first three weeks. Each of those teams averaged over four yards per carry. But, the Ravens and Texans both fell into big first half deficits forcing them away from the ground attack.
Wolfson pointed to explosive plays as another key factor. It’s hard to keep the Chiefs from getting those chunk plays, but the Chargers were successful at doing so for the majority of three quarters. Easier said than done, it will be a fun cat and mouse game to watch on Sunday.
The Patriots travel to Kansas City for a 4:25 p.m. Eastern Time matchup on CBS.