1. New England Patriots RB Dion Lewis has played just 64 offensive snaps in 2017 as he started the year behind James White, Mike Gillislee, and Rex Burkhead in the depth chart. With Burkhead injured, Lewis has seen an increased role and has made the most of his opportunities, turning in a 63-yard performance against the Buccaneers on 9 touches and a 27-yard and a touchdown game on five touches against the Panthers.
“Dion’s always been a productive player for us,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said on Friday. “He makes plays when he has the ball in his hands, and he’s a guy that has played for us in the passing game and the running game and made the most of his opportunities. Yeah, I mean, any productive player you want to give him opportunities”
Lewis is averaging 2.20 yards per snap that he’s on the field and is getting a touch on 41% of his snaps. Whenever he’s on the field, he’s a pretty good bet to get the football. It looks like he’s finally healthy and getting back to his 2015 form. A strong rotational role could be in Lewis’ best interest.
2. While the running backs understandably lead the charts for touches per snap, it’s Danny Amendola that leads the receivers. Amendola has 27 touches on 154 snaps, or 18% of the time, and his 1.73 yards per snap leads Patriots receivers, too. Amendola’s been incredibly efficient in his time on the field this year and that’s partially due to all of the space he has to operate underneath with Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, and Rob Gronkowski drawing double coverages and the safety help.
Cooks, Hogan, and Gronkowski all see touches on 11-12% of their snaps, with Hogan producing far fewer yards per snap than his teammates at just 0.90 yards/snap. Gronkowski (1.24), Cooks (1.20), and even Phillip Dorsett (1.07) are ahead of Hogan.
That’s not an indictment on Hogan at all, either. It’s just more representative of his role as a very, very good #2 receiver.
3. Will it be a jinx if I mention how great Stephen Gostkowski has looked this year? He’s 12 for 12 on field goals, including 4 kicks made from 40+ yards. He’s 14 of 15 on extra points. He’s made an impressive turnaround as his kicks have been true this year, without any of the weird drifts to the left or right at the last moment. He’s back on top of his game and deserves credit for playing so well.
Also, that 48-yard field goal that he knocked home with 70 seconds left in the game against the Buccaneers turned out to be a game-saving kick. If he didn’t make that, the Buccaneers would have finished the game in field goal position and trailing just 16-14. Now there’s no guarantee they would have made the kick, but Gostkowski’s conversion forced them to go for a touchdown. That counts as a clutch kick.
4. Tom Brady ranks third in the NFL with a 112.0 passer rating and 8.7 yards per attempt. His 1,702 passing yards through five games is the second-most of his career, trailing the 1,874 passing yards in 2011. Despite an ugly interception against the Buccaneers, Brady is still at the top of his game, showing a command of the offense and flexing his ability to play both the short and deep passing game at incredible levels of success.
Hopefully Gronkowski can return to 100% and stay there for the rest of the season, along with the other Patriots receivers, because Brady has been so much fun to watch when the offense is clicking. He’s in a league of his own right now and should be considered the MVP favorite, especially considering the quality of his defense. There’s only one thing that can hold the offense back...
5. ...so what’s the deal with the offensive line? It seems like every player has seriously regressed or stayed the same this year. Nate Solder and Shaq Mason have taken steps backwards in pass protection. Marcus Cannon is looking like his 2015-self and not his 2016-All Pro-self. Joe Thuney and David Andrews haven’t made any real strides this year, either.
Brady has been sacked more times in five games of 2017 than he was in 12 games of 2016. This is partially attributed to Brady holding on to the football longer, but there are some serious meltdowns on the edge seemingly every week.
Can Dante Scarnecchia turn this unit around? I wouldn’t bet against him, but as has been the case with the rest of the Patriots squad, what had appeared to be an elite strength heading into 2017 is now a major work in progress.