The idea, in theory, made sense. James White, Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee were on the Patriots’ 53-man roster, and, among running backs, Lewis had the least guaranteed money of the bunch while also being on the last year of his contract. Lewis didn’t look like the same player in 2016 as he did in 2015 before he tore his ACL and was lost for a full calendar year.
Well, the real Dion Lewis is back. Lewis looks as good if not better this season than he did in 2015. And it’s not unreasonable to say Lewis has been one of the NFL’s best running backs through 11 games. What Lewis lacks in bulk output — he has just 97 carries for 498 yards — he more than makes up for in per-play production.
Lewis is third among qualified NFL running backs behind Alvin Kamara and Aaron Jones with 5.1 yards per carry. He ranks tied for fifth with six carries of 20 yards or more despite having at least 40 fewer carries than the four running backs ranked above him.
He ranks second behind Kamara in Pro Football Focus’ “elusive rating” with 33 forced missed tackles on 112 touches. He’s fourth behind Kamara, LeGarrette Blount and Derrick Henry with 3.45 yards after contact per attempt.
Lewis had his most productive game of the season Sunday in the Patriots’ 35-17 win over the Miami Dolphins. And it’s his combination of quickness, burst, vision and power that makes him so special.
Lewis joked in Colorado Springs while the Patriots were practicing at Air Force that he prefers to stay on his feet on and off the field, but he didn’t have a problem hurdling Dolphins defensive end Andre Branch on this 22-yard run in the first quarter.
Lewis then ran through an arm tackle and picked up an extra 7 yards with a defender draped over him.
When Lewis sees a hole, there’s no hesitation, and his acceleration allows him to surprise defenses by getting to the second level before they can properly react.
He broke two tackles on this 25-yard run in the second quarter through his use of power and balance.
Lewis is undersized at 5-foot-7, 195 pounds, but he uses his low center of gravity to his advantage on those kinds of runs. He’s like a human pinball barreling through holes and defenders.
Lewis hasn’t been as heavily utilized in the passing game as he was in 2015, but he’s already set new personal marks in rushing attempts, rushing yards and all-purpose yards. He’s just 37 yards away from setting a new career mark in yards from scrimmage.
While assessing the Patriots’ 2017 offense, it was unreasonable to expect Lewis to be their bell-cow running back given his injury history and how he played in 2016. But he’s been a nice jolt to an offense that lost Julian Edelman in the preseason and has been without Chris Hogan for the last three weeks.
Here are some other observations from this week’s film review:
— The Patriots lost linebacker Kyle Van Noy and defensive end Trey Flowers to injuries late in their Week 12 win. Linebacker Marquis Flowers and defensive end Eric Lee took over for Van Noy, while Deatrich Wise filled in for Trey Flowers. If both Trey Flowers and Van Noy, plus linebacker Trevor Reilly, can’t play Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, then the Patriots might need to sign Geneo Grissom off their practice squad. They would barely have enough bodies to rush four pass rushers in third-and-long situations.
— Lee was impressive in his NFL debut, recording a sack, a pressure and two run stops. The Patriots seem to believe he’s athletic enough to stand up on the end of the line, as well.
— Tom Brady’s most impressive throw of the day was his second touchdown pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski when he was getting absolutely annihilated by pass rusher Cameron Wake.
— For the second straight week, fourth offensive tackle Cameron Fleming came into the game and immediately let up a sack.
— Running back Rex Burkhead ran the Julian Edelman/Danny Amendola quick out from the slot on his touchdown reception. Who needs wide receivers?
— The Patriots missed center David Andrews’ athleticism on a 2-yard reception by tight end Dwayne Allen that could have gone for 10 if Andrews’ replacement, Ted Karras, could reach to the second level and get out in front of Allen on time. Karras has more power than Andrews, but he’s not as fast or quick.
— Bill Belichick was right to praise Malcom Brown, Alan Branch and Lawrence Guy for their work in the run game. The Patriots weren’t leaving much space for Dolphins running backs.
— When did Elandon Roberts turn into the second coming of Jerod Mayo as a blitzer? Roberts had the first two sacks of his career.
— Cornerback Stephon Gilmore played the best game of his short Patriots career, allowing just one 5-yard catch early in the game on three targets. The other two targets went for interceptions — one by Gilmore and one by safety Duron Harmon.
— Cornerback Jonathan Jones drew a tough assignment against Jarvis Landry and more than held his own. He might not face a tougher slot receiver all season, so he’s up for any challenge.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images