Over the last three seasons, Dion Lewis turned from an undersized, oft-injured player into one of the NFL’s more electrifying running backs. His rise to stardom happened as part of the New England Patriots — the team that took a shot at Lewis in 2015, and the one he left as an unrestricted free agent earlier this offseason. Today, Lewis will meet his old team again when the Patriots come to town to visit the Tennessee Titans.
And if the first nine weeks of the season are any indication, New England will see plenty of the running back. “Dion Lewis has taken over as the feature back for the Titans,” Jimmy Morris said about him when asked what to expect of a Tennessee offense that has been inconsistent so far this season. Jimmy, who follows the Titans as editor-in-chief for our sister site Music City Miracles, pointed out that a lot of Lewis will likely be in the cards.
“He has over 100 yards from scrimmage in each of the last two games,” Jimmy said about the former Patriot who is first on his team in touches (125) and yards from scrimmage (598) and is also tied for the team-lead in total touchdowns (2). “He is the biggest edge the Titans offense will have in this game. He will get the ball early and often in this game. [...] Matt LaFleur will see the mismatch he has against the Patriots linebackers.”
As he was the last three year in New England, Lewis is a productive player both in the running game and as part of the Titans’ aerial attack: he is the team’s top back in terms of rushing attempts (92) and yards on the ground (339), and also regularly hears his name called in the passing game: the shifty back is second on the team with 33 receptions and 259 receiving yards. Safe to say that the Patriots need to be ready to limit his impact.
If New England’s defense is indeed able to slow down the Titans’ best weapon — a big if considering that the unit has been inconsistent when it comes to doing that against pass-catching backs — other players will have to step up. And according to Jimmy, the wide receiver that leads the team with 36 catches for 451 yards appears to be the front runner to do just that: “The guy that will need to step up is Corey Davis.”
“He had two touchdown catches in the playoff game last January, so we know the upside that he has, but he has been largely inconsistent to this point,” Jimmy said about Davis. “The Titans spent the 5th overall pick in the 2017 draft on Davis expecting him to be a game changer. He has shown that at times, like when he had nine catches for 161 yards and a touchdown against the Eagles in week four.”
“They will need a big performance from him if they are going to win this game,” Jimmy continued about the second-year wideout. It will not be easy for Davis, however, as he will likely be matched up against Stephon Gilmore. On paper, this matchup favors New England as the team’s number one cornerback is playing at a Pro Bowl level and has successfully shut down wideouts all year long.
Another player needed to perform at his peak is therefore the man needed to spread the football around: quarterback Marcus Mariota. The Titans reporter is confident that this is what will happen and that Mariota will rise up to the challenge. “I think you will see Marcus Mariota at the top of his game for the first time all year, “Jimmy said about the four-year veteran who is completing a career-high 67% of his passes.
“He got off to a slow start this year after damaging a nerve in his elbow in week one,” Jimmy continued about Mariota, who has thrown for 1,270 yards, five touchdowns, and five interceptions so far this season — all while also carrying the football 41 times for 217 yards and a pair of scores. “He didn’t full regain feeling in his hand until this past week. Now that he is healthy and the Titans have had more time learning the new offense, they seem to be rounding into form.”
Whether or not the development is at a point where Mariota and the Titans can hang with New England remains to be seen. But even though the unit is ranked as the 29th best in scoring, it still poses a major challenge in the form of one productive former Patriot.