FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots’ offense took a significant hit in November when starting running back Dion Lewis was lost for the season with a torn ACL.
Lewis averaged over 46 snaps per game in six games before suffering the knee injury in Week 9. He missed a game in Week 7 with an abdomen injury.
Since Lewis is such an important piece of the Patriots’ offense, and since he’s undersized at 5-foot-8, 195 pounds, would New England consider lessening his workload in 2016?
“I think in general, across the board, with coaching and players and our training staff, and our strength and conditioning guys, we always have to keep in mind that balance of what’s the right amount, what’s too much, what’s not enough,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said Wednesday. “And as we head into training camp, we have a lot of work to do. That would apply to our practices, and once we get into the season, the same thing is true.
“You never necessarily know if that led to an injury or didn’t. That’s a tricky question to find out exactly what it was, but I think the goal in mind is to try to find the optimum usage level for each level and work to it, and play that way during the season. Sometimes, that’s not easy to identify at the very beginning because the weather’s so hot and all the rest of it. So, we try to play as many guys as we can.”
The Patriots aren’t exactly loaded at running back, so there is a drop-off when Lewis comes off the field. LeGarrette Blount is penciled in as the Patriots’ top “big back,” while James White can fill in on passing downs. But neither is as versatile as Lewis, who has similar success as a ball-carrier or pass-catcher.
The Patriots also have Brandon Bolden (a jack of all trades but only a master of special teams), sub backs Donald Brown and D.J. Foster and big backs Tyler Gaffney and Joey Iosefa.
Lewis averaged 4.8 yards per carry last season, while the rest of the Patriots’ running backs — Blount, Bolden, White, Iosefa and Steven Jackson — averaged just 3.7 yards per carry. Lewis will begin training camp on the physically unable to perform list, which will give the Patriots’ other running backs increased opportunities in camp.
The Patriots might want to decrease Lewis’ workload, but if they don’t add another running back either through free agency or a trade, it likely will decrease their offensive impact and unpredictability. It might be worth it in the long run, however, if Lewis still is on the field when the playoffs roll around.
Thumbnail photo via James Lang/USA TODAY Sports Images