Hidden behind Tom Brady’s career season is the trio of running backs with him in the backfield. The threat of LeGarrette Blount, James White and Dion Lewis is special in many a way. Having a variety of rushers, like a big Blount and two smaller, shifty guys like Lewis and White, not to mention all three healthy, has been a major key to this season’s success. With these three backs healthy, it makes it that much more difficult for opponents to prepare for them, as if it weren’t hard enough to do so already. Those three are completely different guys in most senses of their position. Pats backs have out-rushed opponents by more than 450 yards this season, compiling 1,872 total yards and 19 touchdowns; yards and touchdowns being the most ever in Patriots history.
LeGarrette Blount has done most of the work in his breakout season, rushing 299 times for 1,161 yards and a Patriots-record and NFL-leading 18 rushing touchdowns, all being Blount’s career-highs. First and foremost, his durability and reliability have led him down this path of total success. Going into the season, there were a whole lot of questions regarding his reliability as a starter, considering his injury past, and with Dion Lewis out to start the season, he needed to meet all expectations. That was no issue this time around for the 30-year old, exceeding probably any and every expectation thrown at him.
His breakout season was, and continues to be, surprising to most. He was easily one of the better running backs in the NFL this season. His combination of unique athleticism, size, quickness and overall ability in general is pretty crazy. He’s got immense power and strength, making him incredibly hard to take down. The 6-foot, 250-pound fighter can spin around defenders, thanks to his quickness, run men over and outrun them, too. Not something you’d expect to see out of a man that size and age, but it’s so much fun to watch. If you never watched him before and just looked at his physique alone, you probably wouldn’t guess that he possesses those qualities and can do some of the things that he can do. LG hurdling a Dolphins defender back in September is easily at the top of his 2016-17 highlight reel. He isn’t the fastest dude you’ll ever see, but nonetheless, he’s quite the specimen.
Blount’s primary compliment, Dion Lewis, had an uplifting regular season, to say the least. Lewis, at last, returned from the PUP list in late November after finally recovering from a nagging ACL injury, returning a little over a year after the ACL tear. Lewis only played in seven regular season games this season, but has yet to miss a beat after his prolonged absence. Lewis was slowly eased back into play week by week, getting a few more snaps with every game. In his shortened regular season, Lewis ran the ball 64 times for 283 yards, and also caught the ball 17 times for 94 yards. Just a few weeks ago in Denver, lewis recorded a career game, with 18 rushes for 95 yards. He assured Patriots fans that he was back and, pretty much literally, better than ever. Not to mention, over the last two seasons, the Patriots are a perfect 14-0 in games that Lewis plays in. That’s insane, and telling.
Lewis is best known for making defenders looks completely silly, breaking tackles on seemingly every other play and shaking defenders off of him like a pesky mosquito. Dion is so speedy, and after a couple of years of watching him, his quickness never ceases to amaze me. He’s stupid fast. His agility is second to none. Lewis naturally lets his feet lead the way, allowing his upper body strength to do the brunt of the job. Besides those reasons already mentioned, I think another reason as to why Lewis is so adored here is because he truly finishes runs. His dynamic style of play in general lets him finish nearly every rush. As Belichick would (vaguely) say, Lewis is just a productive player. You can’t ask for much more.
Last but not least, “Sweet Feet” James White. White and Lewis are nearly identical in height and weight, White two inches taller and one pound lighter. Belichick would highly disapprove of me comparing the two, but they are really similar and comparable. Though, this season for Sweet Feet has been a whole lot different compared to the past. White caught 60 passes on 86 targets for 551 yards and 5 touchdowns, to only 39 rushes and 166 yards. White is only second behind Julian Edelman in targets this season.
White is obviously the lesser-used back of the three, but plays an important role in the offense when he is on the field. He’s been used primarily as a short pass/screen catcher this season, and it’s worked out pretty well. We all remember White’s putrid performance against the Broncos in last year’s AFC Championship Game, which was essentially butterfingers galore. Couldn’t catch a pass to save his life (I still have flashbacks whenever he drops a pass, to this day). That, fortunately, hasn’t been the story this season. All five of his touchdowns coming via the passing game says something. My speculative mind says that the coaches knew that White was better than what he showed in that postseason performance and wanted him to redeem himself in a low-key fashion this season. His hands have drastically improved since then, for the better. Being used as a third down pass catcher has forced him to improve in that department, and thankfully, he has.
We can all thank health for outstanding regular season from New England’s backs. Even when Lewis remained on the mend, Blount proved that he could get the job done and then some. Lewis only adds another tank of gasoline to the fire for the upcoming playoffs. The Patriots face a number one defense in the Houston Texans on Saturday, a pretty good test for both respective sides. Who knows what Belichick has planned, but all I know is that these three guys are locked and loaded, ready to go, again, all thanks to health. Here’s to a healthy road to Houston.