Giardi: Elusive 2015 version of Dion Lewis has returned


Giardi: Elusive 2015 version of Dion Lewis has returned

Dion Lewis has adopted a mantra this year, “I’m small but I’m not little.” If you’ve been paying attention over the past couple of weeks, the Patriots’ running back has spit that line back at reporters, usually doing it with a confident smile. 

His point is that people might be confused by his lack of height and think Lewis is a scatback-type. Hardly. That 5-7  (maybe…) body packs more power pound for pound then even backs 15 to 20 pounds bigger.


“Yeah, I mean I agree with that,” said Bill Belichick on a conference call Tuesday. “I think there are a lot of backs that fit into that category, that are short but not small guys. They have good lower body strength, can take contact and run through arm tackles and can run through contact. I would definitely put him [Lewis] in that category. He’s got good balance, good lower body strength and good vision but when guys get a shot at him he’s able to maintain his balance and get through a lot of those hits. I think that’s a credit to his strength, power and balance. He’s short but he’s not a little guy. I agree with that.”
“Dion is not thin. That’s for sure,” noted offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. “He’s got power, he’s got quickness, he’s got speed. He does a lot of things well and sometimes he can be difficult to find back there from the defense’s perspective.”
Sunday was the most recent example of good things coming in small but powerful packages with Lewis. He had 18 touches against Oakland and forced 10 missed tackles by my count. 10. That’s exactly what Lewis did when he burst onto the scene at the start of the 2015 season, becoming one of the league’s biggest surprises before blowing out his knee. His performance this season - starting in Week 5 in Tampa - shows that he’s back to being that same player.
“I don’t know where he’s at relative to what he was,” said McDaniels. “That’s really no one’s concern. He’s playing well and he’s got a good solid role on our team and does whatever we ask him to do to help us win each week.”
Lewis was ready to run long before the Pats made him the focal point of their backfield. His carries backed that feeling up. Yet his snap count was on the low end. Perhaps the Pats wanted to give Mike Gillislee first crack. Or maybe they wanted to see how Lewis’ knee responded to a long training camp during which he got so many touches and snaps some wondered if he was being shopped or in danger of being cut. Privately, the Pats insisted that wasn’t the case, that they were still bullish on the 27-year old’s ability. That faith is now being rewarded.

“He did a lot of good things for us in training camp,” said Belichick. “We gave him a significant amount of playing time in the preseason games, including kickoff returns, and so I think he’s done a good job all year. How he feels he can answer that better than I can, how it feels as compared to some other point in time. But he’s out there, he’s doing everything, I think he’s done well.”
The better he performs, the more it’s clear he’s the best option the Pats have at that position. Lewis can change a game and do it in a variety of ways.
“This guy is just a unique player with a unique skill set that we enjoy having around here,” said McDaniels. “I think Dion has proven over time he can do and contribute in a lot of different areas. We’ve seen him do it as a kickoff returner, as running back getting the ball handed to him, we’ve seen him do it as a blitz pick-up guy on third downs, we’ve seen him do it as a back catching the ball out of the backfield like he did the other day and we’ve seen him extend from the formation. He’s smart and he’s tough and he cares about playing hard...He’s a guy we’re fortunate to have.”

Change to pass-interference rule is WAY overdue

AP Photo

Change to pass-interference rule is WAY overdue

Yes, please, on the proposed adjustment to defensive pass interference. No, thank you on the revised catch rule.

And I know I'm going to have my dreams crushed on both counts.

Despite all the arm-flapping and breath wasted that "NOBODY KNOWS WHAT A CATCH IS ANYMORE!!!!", long-distance pass interference has been a bigger bugaboo for the league for a much longer time.

In 2017, there were 129 pass interference calls longer than 15 yards. The proposed rule change that will be debated at next week's NFL Annual Meeting will make pass interference a 15-yard penalty unless it's egregious and intentional. In those cases, it will continue to be a spot foul

So overdue. For too long offenses have been rewarded by officials on 50-50 balls where DBs and receivers engage in subtle handfighting. It's absolutely illogical to expect middle-aged officials in okay (or worse) shape to keep pace with Gronk-sized receivers and whippet-quick defenders, then make calls on plays 40 yards downfield.

If you're going to throw a flag that gives the offense 40 yards, there should be an extreme degree of certainty accompanies that flag. And too often, the officials are forced to make educated guesses. Next thing you know, Joe Flacco and Rex Grossman are in the Super Bowl.

It's probably the most difficult penalty to call in football, yet it carries the greatest punishment for a defense? What sense does that make? 

I actually think the NFL should go a step beyond and make pass interference reviewable. I'll even make this concession -- it's reviewable only for DPI that puts the ball inside the 10 and is longer than 15 yards. How's that?

"More reviews?!?!? We don't need more reviews?!?!?!"

Okay, but you'll accept them when a dimwit coach argues a spot on a three-yard run that may or may not mean a first down, but not on a play that hands the offense half the field? Come on. Forward thinking.

As for the contention corners are going to begin bludgeoning receivers once they realize they're being beaten deep -- BAM! -- that's where you get the aggravated pass interference (API . . . trademarked 2018) that can be dropped on their heads.

A DB that doesn't turn to face the ball and runs through a receiver? An arm bar all the way downfield preventing a receiver from getting his hands up? A way-too-early arrival? That's API and it's a spot foul. What are the possible negative consequences?

It will now spawn debate as to what's aggravated PI and just garden variety PI. And it asks officials to make another judgment call.

But the truth is, it already is -- in many cases -- a judgment call. And if I were an official reaching for my flag on a Hail Mary from the 43 at the end of the game where there was jostling, I'd sure as hell be happy that I have the option to call garden variety PI and put the ball at the 28 rather than put the ball at the 1.

It's a rule change that makes the game better. That way you don't have calls like this or this. This 55-yarder would be an API (defender hugs Crabtree).

Tellingly, there's no outcry about the need to reform pass interference NOW like there is about the catch rule. You know what needs to happen? A few more plays like this where the Patriots profit. Then you'll see a damn MOVEMENT!


Pro day circuit shows Belichick in his element

Pro day circuit shows Belichick in his element

Bill Belichick is a teacher. His father was a teacher. His mother was a teacher. He is very much their son in that regard. 

The glimpses into Belichick's essence aren't as rare as you might think, but they still generate an inordinate amount of interest because he's arguably the best to ever execute the kind of teaching he's made his life's work.

Every time he takes several minutes to answer a conference call or press conference question thoughtfully, the hundreds of words found in the text of the transcribed answer typically create a stir on Twitter. NFL Films productions that show Belichick operating behind the scenes are devoured. Exclusive interviews, where he shares his insight on individual games and matchups, NFL Films productions that show Belichick operating behind the scenes are devoured. Exclusive interviews, where he shares his insight on individual games and matchups, make every installment of the ‘Do Your Job’ series a must-watch.

Clips of Belichick on the practice field aren't necessarily hard to find, there just aren't many of them considering how many practices he's run over the course of his decades-long career. But thanks to more lax media policies at the college programs he visits for pro days, video of his on-the-field work pops up on a regular basis this time of year. They are mini-clinics dotting the internet. 

This is Belichick in his element. Even in the middle of a random university campus. Even with scouts, coaches and front-office people from around the league watching his every move. Whether he's coaching players one-on-one or three or four at a time, Belichick is imparting his wisdom on eager close-to-blank slates. All the while he's trying to evaluate how they're absorbing what he's giving them. Do they pay attention? How do they process information? Are they error-repeaters? 

It's a fascinating give-and-take between the 60-something coach trying to build a roster and the 20-something players trying to make one, some of whom hadn't yet hit kindergarten when Belichick won his first ring in New England. And he seems to enjoy it. 

Here's a quick look at some of what Belichick has been up to the last few days at Georgia, South Carolina and NC State.