Patriots Mailbag: Dion Lewis On Pace For Best Season By Third-Down Back

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Dion Lewis

Photo via Sep 20, 2015; Orchard Park, NY, USA; New England Patriots running back Dion Lewis (33) during the first half against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots once again proved it’s easy to keep players around when you’re a perpetual winner.

The Patriots convinced running back Dion Lewis to sign a two-year contract extension with a reported base value of just $3 million with a $600,000 signing bonus. He can earn up to $4.8 million, and even if he makes every penny, the contract is still an absolute steal.

Lewis possibly could have made more money on the open market, but it was worth that risk for him to sign. Lewis has dealt with injuries throughout his career, and if he suffered another one this season, he’d likely be back on just a one-year minimum deal. Lewis gives himself some job security, and it’s a low-risk deal for the Patriots, who could let go of the running back with little cap penalty if, for some reason, it came down to that.

Lewis’ team-friendly contract is yet another example of why the Patriots keep rattling off winning seasons.

Let’s get into this week’s mailbag.

@DougKyed what’s you take on the o-line rotations. Seems to be working. Also what happens when stork returns?
— @NickDygs9
I think it’s brilliant for multiple reasons.

For years, defensive lines have rotated, making life more difficult for the offensive line. The offensive line had to prepare for multiple players, and defensive linemen were constantly entering the game fresh.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick flipped the script by complicating matchups for the defensive side. Now they must study for multiple players, and the offensive line is staying fresh with an extra breather.

The rotation works especially well at guard, where the Patriots don’t currently have any All-Pro caliber players. Josh Kline, Shaq Mason and Tre’ Jackson all essentially are on the same level, so it’s not as though the Patriots are removing a game-changing player from the field. It’s slightly different at tackle, where Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer are franchise players, and Marcus Cannon is the clear backup. That’s likely why Cannon has played the fewest percentage of snaps — 44.9 — out of the offensive line rotation.

Before we get to Stork returning, it will be interesting to see how the Patriots adjust the offensive line with Ryan Wendell set to return. Wendell kicked the illness that kept him out of games and practice, and he was a full-go Wednesday and Thursday. Wendell even was playing center with the first-team unit early in Thursday’s practice.

Undrafted rookie center David Andrews has played every offensive snap for the Patriots through three games, but that could change Sunday against the Cowboys. It would be strange, but the Patriots could elect to rotate their centers to go along with their guards and tackles.

We could see something similar when Stork comes back, but one interior offensive lineman would probably be removed from the equation. Andrews, Kline, Mason and Jackson all are playing well, Wendell was the Patriots’ most consistent offensive lineman last season, and Stork showed tons of potential in his rookie season, so that will be a difficult decision. Kline is probably a step ahead of Mason and Jackson right now, but the rookies have more upside.

@DougKyed Obviously early, but rank the Patriots “3rd down” running backs over the Belichick era (Faulk, Woodhead, Vereen, Lewis)
— @ArjunaRamgopal
It is very early, but let’s take a look at the numbers. We’ll use Dion Lewis’ projected stats for season totals:

*On pace

Some takeaways:
— Lewis is on pace to have the most productive season by a Patriots third-down back under Bill Belichick. The biggest reason for that is because Lewis is also being used as a between-the-tackles rusher on early downs. The Patriots probably will slow Lewis’ pace, but his average yards per carry and per reception exceed Faulk, Woodhead and Vereen’s career totals.

— Kevin Faulk fumbled much more frequently than Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen. Lewis’ fumble totals obviously will have to slow down.

— Woodhead held up the best among the third-down backs, which gives him the advantage per season. He was less productive per game than Faulk and Vereen in the passing game, but he was the best rusher.

— Faulk has the advantage over Woodhead and Vereen in all-purpose yards because he was the Patriots’ primary kick returner for four years.

— Faulk’s most productive season was in 2000, when he had 1,909 all purpose yards. He had 1,035 yards from scrimmage that season. His most productive offensive season came in 2003, when he had 1,078 yards from scrimmage.

I’d say Faulk is still the top third-down back in Patriots history, followed closely by Woodhead and then Vereen. Lewis, 25, has the potential to top Faulk, but he needs to stay healthy and productive. It’s more likely we’ll see him fall below Faulk but above Woodhead and Vereen.

It’s still surprising the Patriots allowed Woodhead to walk in free agency for a two-year, $3.5 million contract with the San Diego Chargers. Woodhead was and still is very, very good. The Patriots just locked up Lewis for a similar bargain, and obviously it worked out, with the Patriots winning a Super Bowl, and all, but they could have used Woodhead in 2013, when Vereen missed time with a hand injury.

@DougKyed who gets the nod? As far as snaps. Blount or Lewis?
— @Anthonys_Era
I think Lewis will continue to outpace Blount in snaps. I also think Lewis will be the starting running back, both on early downs and in the third-down role, and that Blount will rotate onto the field in early-down situations.

Blount received a heavy workload against the Jaguars, but it appeared that was only the case because the Patriots had such a giant lead. Lewis is going to continue to be a big part of the Patriots’ offense, and they showed faith in him by giving him that two-year contract extension Thursday. Blount also will have a role, but the Patriots might as well ride the hot hand while Lewis is healthy and productive.

@DougKyed Brandon LaFell is able to come off the PUP week 7. Details have been few, is he still on track and getting healthy to do so?
— @InfraRen
It appears LaFell is on pace to come off PUP in Week 7. He’s been running with the team during warmups and is moving in the locker room without a limp.

@DougKyed How do the Pats stop the Cowboys’ running attack?
— @mattstdream
If the Patriots’ primary goal is to stop the Cowboys’ rushing attack — as it should be — they’ll crowd the line and have to trust their secondary against Brandon Weeden and Dallas’ depleted receiver corps.

I wouldn’t be shocked if the Patriots stay in their “regular” defense, with a full front seven, even when the Cowboys have three receivers on the field. That would mean playing some combination of four defensive backs that would certainly include safety Devin McCourty and cornerback Malcolm Butler. It’s unclear who will be the Patriots’ second and third cornerbacks Sunday, since Bradley Fletcher and Tarell Brown were limited in practice. Logan Ryan and Justin Coleman could receive a hefty share of snaps for the second consecutive week.

We could see more of veteran linebacker Jerod Mayo this week, or the Patriots could compromise by playing Patrick Chung as a linebacker in nickel sets with three cornerbacks and McCourty. This probably won’t be a game in which Duron Harmon will see the field for the majority of snaps, unless the Patriots elect to play McCourty at cornerback.

@DougKyed waffles or pancakes?
— @Anthonys_Era
Here’s a controversial opinion: I’m going with pancakes.

My wife — then fiancee — once accidentally asked for pancakes at Waffle House in Virginia. They looked at her like she ordered a pu pu platter at a Pizza Hut.

@DougKyed do you think it’ll be a 50-burger on Sunday or just a 40-burger?
— @WhiskeyNick
I think they drop a 50-burger with bacon and garlic aioli.

@DougKyed Which @SashaBanksWWE vs @itsBayleyWWE match was better? Brooklyn or Respect? I vote Brooklyn. #NXT
— @JeffWIIM
I’m with you, Jeff. The NXT Takeover: Respect match was great Wednesday night, but it would have been nearly impossible to top the Brooklyn match.

The Divas revolution won’t be complete until Bayley is called up to the main roster, by the way. I don’t think they should rush it, though. She should debut either at or just before the Royal Rumble, when people, like me, actually have time to start watching wrestling again.

@DougKyed how many times do you think a drunk Bill O’Brein has called Belichick about Brady? I heard his offering both his starting QBs…
— @LaneWalker12
Brady? I want to know what they’re offering for Jimmy Garoppolo at this point. The Patriots might be holding out for Houston’s entire 2016 and 2017 drafts.

I’m guessing the Texans are now regretting placing Tom Savage on injured reserve with a shoulder sprain.

Thumbnail photo via Kevin Hoffman/USA TODAY Sports Images

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