It’s unclear why the New England Patriots activated Dion Lewis off the physically unable to perform list just to make him inactive in Week 10, but it was the right decision.
Regular-season loss or not, the New England Patriots need to keep Lewis healthy for the postseason. Lewis has played in just 31 of a possible 89 games since being selected in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL Draft, and his health probably is even more vulnerable as he’s months removed from multiple knee surgeries.
Even when Lewis finally is active for a game, it seems unlikely he’ll receive a full workload. It’s much more likely that will come playoff time, despite Patriots coach Bill Belichick implying Lewis might not pass James White on the depth chart as the third-down back. Lewis instead likely will work on all three downs, albeit in a limited capacity.
That’s because Lewis adds an element that White and LeGarrette Blount can’t: unpredictability.
White has been on the field for just 29 running plays in 253 total snaps this season (11.5 percent), meaning defenses know the Patriots will pass when he’s on the field. And three of those carries were on third and long, when the Patriots were conservatively running the ball. That’s up from 2015, when he carried the ball on just 7.6 percent of his snaps.
Lewis ran the ball 50 times on 298 snaps last season (16.8 percent) and offers much more of a threat while carrying the ball.
Don’t remember what Lewis can do as a ball-carrier? He’s essentially a human pinball.
White is at his best in the open field, where he has time to make a cut and make a defender miss. It takes a very special talent to do that in short spaces as Lewis can.
Lewis is just as big of a threat in the passing game, where he also can make defenders miss in the open field. Below is one of the more amazing plays you’ll see a skill-position player make, as he hauls in the pass one-handed and subsequently makes four defenders miss in an 8-yard span.
We’ll find out if Lewis still possesses those skills after two knee surgeries.
Lewis ran the ball on just 5.3 percent more snaps last season than White in 2016, but because of his short-area elusiveness, defenses must always respect the run when he’s in the game. Combine Lewis with the Patriots’ two-tight end offense, when Rob Gronkowski is back from his chest injury, and opposing defenses might not know how to handle sets with those two players and Martellus Bennett.
It’s uncertain when Lewis will be back. Belichick keeps referring to “push-ups” when discussing what Lewis was up to while on PUP, which is the head coach’s acerbic way of saying his running back wasn’t participating in football activities.
It likely will take more than three weeks of practice for a running back to knock off rust and be active in a game. But the Patriots have three easy opponents on the horizon, and getting Lewis snaps before the postseason is key. Rotating him in against the San Francisco 49ers, New York Jets and Los Angeles Rams, when the stakes aren’t quite as high, over these next three weeks might be the perfect opportunity for Lewis to knock off that rust with limited game action until tougher opponents come in the near future.
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images