The Cardiac Pats ground out another win in their fourth-straight game in which the game hung in the balance on the final play. A lackluster effort overall marred the play of Dion Lewis, who ran all over the Jets front. Sunday marked Lewis’s first real impact in the 2017 season, as prior to this game, his season high in snaps was just 18, and had averaged just 6.5 touches per game. However, watching him on Sunday, it was hard not to harken back to the Dion Lewis we saw in the 2015 season, when he seized control of the Patriots backfield with elite performance after elite performance.
It is easy to forget just how incredible Lewis’s 2015 season was prior to tearing his ACL. To preface, it is obviously difficult to discern whether Lewis can ever regain the level of play he displayed in 2015, but if he has, I firmly believe he deserves a far heavier workload, and his stats back up my belief.
He played in seven games in 2015 and amassed 234 yards on the ground on 49 carries, good for a 4.8 rush yards per attempt average. That figure would have put him 9th in the NFL in 2016, tied with Devonta Freeman, just 0.1 yards behind Jay Ayaji and Le’Veon Bell, and 0.3 yards behind rushing champ Ezekiel Elliot. For a back primarily known for his pass-catching abilities, Lewis’s rushing numbers are astounding, and demonstrate that he possesses the ability to be an elite back when rushing the football.
Yet his versatility is what makes him most dangerous, as he also racked up 388 yards through the air on 36 catches. He was on pace for roughly 886 receiving yards, which is not just more than the 551 receiving yards James White put up in 2016, but also ahead of the NFL’s premier pass-catching back, David Johnson, who garnered 879 receiving yards in 2016. In total, Lewis was on pace for 1418 yards from scrimmage, which would have put him 10th in yards from scrimmage in the NFL in 2016, and his 1418 projected scrimmage yards nearly double the total White had in 2016 (717).
Despite these numbers, Lewis has been entrenched at third in the Patriots depth chart thus far in 2017, behind James White (49.9% of offensive snaps) and Mike Gillislee (32% of offensive snaps). Heading into Week 5, Lewis had been on the field for just 18% of offensive plays, but on Sunday, thanks in large part to a Gillislee fumble in the 1st quarter, Lewis saw his highest snap count of the year (29) and played on 43% of plays, almost the exact figure he averaged in his seven games in 2015 (42 snaps per game on average). Lewis lived up to the workload, running for 52 yards on 11 carries, good for 4.7 yards per carry, and while he did not register a reception, his impact on the game was obvious.
This performance begs the question: it is actually realistic to see Lewis getting increased snaps as the season progresses? After all, it was White, not Lewis, who signed a three-year, $12 million dollar extension this offseason, including $4.7 million guaranteed, and the offseason signings of Mike Gillislee (two-years, $6.4 million) and Rex Burkhead (one-year, $3.2 million) also run counter to the theory that Lewis will see more time. Keep in mind the Patriots are a team that have rarely ever invested heavily in the running back position, seeing as the last time they paid a running back over two million in a single season was 2010 (Fred Taylor), yet the 2017 Patriots have three running backs earning over two million this season, and Lewis is not one of them.
Despite the financial situation at running back, I think it would be foolish for Josh McDaniels and co. to not be trying to get Lewis more involved. Perhaps he just isn’t the same player he was in 2015, and the coaching staff are able to see things that we as fans cannot, but these sorts of plays beg to differ:
I mean, what other running back is able to gain 11 yards out of this? Dare I say that run was… Leveon Bell-like?
Bottom line, I think Lewis is simply too talented a player to continue to see just 13 snaps per game, and if I were Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick, I would be making sure Lewis gets 30-40 snaps and 15 or so touches a game, because he is just too good to be third on the depth chart, even in the log-jam that is the Patriots backfield.