Cam Newton has performed brutally bad since returning from the reserve/COVID-19 list, culminating in last week's benching during the blowout loss to San Francisco.
However, ahead of a pivotal showdown between Buffalo and New England, Bills coach Sean McDermott is prepping his team to face the best version of Newton.
"He's a good player, we have a lot of respect for him and he's the former MVP of the league for a reason," McDermott said this week, via the Boston Globe. "We know full well what he's capable of."
McDermott's relationship with Newton dates back to their Carolina days when the former was the Panthers defensive coordinator from 2011-2016. It was the heyday of Newton's career, which included a 2015 NFL MVP trophy and a Super Bowl trip.
"He's certainly a great player and I think people don't know who he is off the field and they always wonder," McDermott said. "Cam and I, our relationship goes back a long time and he is a real joy to be around and a pleasure of a man just in terms of the way he handles himself with all the attention he's gotten over the years. He was always very respectful and kind to me and my family and I'll never forget that."
After getting off to a solid start to the season, Newton has struggled in his last three games, during which passer rating has dropped by nearly 48 points.
Newton first two games: 71.4 completion percentage, 5 total TDs, 1 turnover, 96.8 passer rating, 61.0 rush yards per game.
Newton last three games: 63.2 completion percentage, 2 total TDs, 6 turnovers, 48.5 passer rating, 40.7 rush yards per game.
The latest issue surrounding Newton has been an inability or unwillingness to the right, which has been the case since suffering a Lisfranc injury in 2019 but has been more pronounced the past two games.
Weeks 1-3: 22 of 91 pass attempts thrown to the right (24.2 percent)
Weeks 6-7: 3 of 40 pass attempts thrown to the right (0.08 percent)
Newton's footwork has gotten wonky since his return from missing Week 4's game, and he's been scattershot with his accuracy.
Even with the Patriots offensive struggles, McDermott respects the type of matchup issues Newton brings to the table.
"They've shown an ability to run the ball, they've shown an ability to throw the ball," the Bills coach said. "Certainly, Cam's been involved in both. Cam's a dynamic player ... he gets the ball to his weapons. So, they're a challenge to handle because of all the different things they do in the screen game and the gadgets, as well."
The Sunday afternoon game in Buffalo portends run-heavy sets. The morning is expected to be wet, and winds could reach over 40 mph.
The Patriots came out of the gate this season with a creative run-game plan behind Newton. We've seen less of that in recent weeks. Given the weather and Newton's passing struggles, pounding the rock against a Bills defense that has been gutted up the middle this season should be the play for OC Josh McDaniels and the Pats.