Friday, December 29, 2017

Harrison In New England To Intimidate On The Edge - Nothing More, Nothing Less

There is a curious phenomenon that occurs in the sports fan when their team loses a favored player to another team, and it's symptoms lie along the lines of the jilted lover syndrome - only in the case of linebacker James Harrison and the fans of his former employers, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the syndrome cuts both ways...

The Steelers released Harrison from his contract on Saturday afternoon, he cleared waivers on Sunday and then signed with New England on Tuesday, in a natural progression of the waivers process - especially at this point of the season with just one regular season game remaining, with the only teams a 39-year-old outside linebacker could possibly help busy building their vacation itineraries.

Despite this, he allegedly had other suitors - per Harrison himself - but he chose to change his business address to Foxborough.

Why? Only Harrison knows for certain - but we can guess, and the first thing that comes to mind is that Harrison has always been a hyper-competitive person with a mean streak a mile-wide. That said, he spoke of the Patriots in less than glowing terms throughout his career, consistently labeling them as cheaters, claiming that they knew Pittsburgh's defensive signals in the 2004 AFC Championship Game and, as a result, denied him a trophy...

...more recently climbing aboard the so-called DeflateGate bandwagon, claiming via Twitter that he was"gonna show TB what deflated balls are all about" before their week one matchup in 2015 - and trolling Belichick saying that it would be "tough to win a Super Bowl without knowing the other team's plays" after the Patriots lost to Denver in the 2013 AFC Championship Game.

But all of that apparently goes out the window when the team he'd been loyal to since making their 53-man roster in 2004 (after a stint with the Rhein Fire of the World League as a loaner from the Baltimore Ravens) lied to him about playing time, then unceremoniously dumped him with one game left this season, giving the entire situation the feel of a jilted lover seeking revenge.

It's no secret that the Pittsburgh Steelers' locker room is a soap opera more suited for daytime television, as coach Mike Tomlin's grip on his players is notoriously loose-fisted, as they regularly throw each other under the bus, so to hear them trash Harrison was to be expected - but in doing so they made Harrison look like the victim and Tomlin look like a modern-day Snidley Whiplash.

A common theme coming out of the Steelers' camp is that Harrison went to the Steelers' coaching staff three separate times and asked for his release, citing lack of playing time, and was rebuffed three separate times, being told that they had a role for him on the team and to just stay ready. But when that role continued to include being given "lip sevice" and riding the pine anyway, Harrison approached Steelers' head coach Mike Tomlin a fourth time.

"I'd have to be absolutely crazy to release you if something happened with injuries" Harrison quoted Tomlin in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, recanting a conversation that took place immediately after the Steelers' loss to the Patriots in Week 15, a game in which Harrison had no role.

Apparently, Tomlin changed his mind and released Harrison in a roster spot swap, giving offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert, who was coming off suspension, the vacated roster spot.  What went into Tomlin's decision to tweak his roster as he did is inconsequential, however, and anything said here would be nothing more than weak speculation.

Many on the team and even more of the Pittsburgh fan base are painting Harrison as the bad guy in this scenario, but the information as it has been presented tells a different story.

Both center Maurkice Pouncey and linebacker Bud Dupree have been very vocal about Harrison's departure, with Pouncey going so far as to claim that Harrison has "Erased his legacy" with the Steelers, and the majority of fan comments on various sites calling Harrison a traitor - but it's also true that both Pouncey and Dupree confirmed that Harrison had asked for his release several times throughout the season.

And the one thing that no one can deny is that the timing by Tomlin is curious at best, and disastrous at worst since Harrison has signed on in a place that sincerely needs what he brings to the field as a pass rusher and edge setter, which brings up two very important points: First, with all of the noise coming out of the Steelers' locker room, it is clear that Tomlin still doesn't have control of his team, and if he does, he is incredibly childish for allowing his players to backbite Harrison...

...and second, had Harrison signed with anyone except the Patriots, this wouldn't even be a story.

But since he did sign with New England, and since it is a story, the question begs: What does Harrison bring to the Patriots' defense? Harrison doesn't seem the mentoring type, and that's not what he is in Foxborough for - instead, Harrison is one of those rare athletes who takes his fitness and workout routines to the extreme, perhaps in response to being shunned by the NFL coming out of Kent State.

This after teaming up with his Mother to pay his way through college because his track record in high school told a story of an elite athlete with a quick temper and a sadistic approach to football - playing to inflict pain and humiliation upon others as a result of continually being slighted for his short frame (barely six feet tall) and skin color (he was one of the first black student athletes at his high school), he was suspended twice for retaliating to racial taunts during road games.

Routinely, Harrison would approach the opposing team during warm ups before games and stare them down - then when he had their full attention, he told them matter-of-factly that they were going to die that day, such is the manner in which he intimidates his foes.

A poor academic record combined with the suspensions found Harrison with no scholarship offers and few universities willing to accept him as a student, so he walked on at Kent State which was close enough to home for his mother to keep tabs on him, and when she received the poor grades for his freshman year she came to the school looking to take him home, saying that she wasn't paying for him to flunk out of school.

But he promised her that he would do better and with the help of head coach Dean Pees, whom Patriots fans will remember as their defensive coordinator a decade ago, he made the Dean's list and finished school only to be snubbed during the 2002 NFL draft, but being invited to the Pittsburgh Steelers' training camp.

Cut and resigned to the practice squad three times in two season, Harrison accepted an invitation from the Baltimore Ravens to travel to Germany and play for the Rhein Fire of the now-defunct World League, but hated Germany so much that the Ravens eventually cut him and he ended up back with Pittsburgh where he toiled in anonymity until Joey Porter retired and Harrison seized the opportunity to fill his spot.

The rest is history - or his legacy.

As mean-tempered and intimidating as he is on the field, he can be just as mild-mannered off of it. He dotes on his son, makes regular visits to children's hospitals on his own, and is generous to the schools that gave him the opportunity to play, making several large donations to each.

But the one thing about Harrison that takes people aback is that he decompresses after long days at the office by watching hours of cartoons in the evenings.

"I think he's in such a violent, violent scenario, that it gives him peace." said former Coventry High School offensive coordinator Gary Hutt, who befriended the young Harrison around the turn of the century, adding, "That's his place to get away from it all. I'm not kidding you, he'll sit there and watch cartoons for hours. He's a teddy bear."

Not many people would describe Harrison as a teddy bear, though he certainly has a softer, caring side. But that's not why the Patriots picked him up off the scrap heap earlier this week. No, they brought him in to add a level of intimidation and aggressiveness to a defense that really doesn't scare anyone, though their brand of the bend-but-don't-break philosophy has worked well for them so far this season.

New England gives up a ton of yards to opposing offenses, and can't set the edge in the running and screen games to save their lives - but they don't allow a lot of points, which means that they clamp down on opposing offenses in the red zone where the field shrinks and the Patriots' big nickel alignment allows them to be more aggressive on the edges and in their pass rush.

What Harrison has come in for is to help between the twenties - to help set a solid edge and not allow rushers to get outside, and also to provide spot duty as a pass rusher. He's fresh for sure, having only played 40 total snaps in five games this season, so asking the 39 year old to wreak havoc on the edge for 15 to 20 plays per game isn't asking a hell of a lot...

...especially given that New England has one regular season game remaining, then has two weeks off before starting their post-season, then, maybe, another couple of weeks off between championship Sunday and the Super Bowl, where Harrison will be seeking his third ring.

That's a lot of time off to rest his weary old bones, time off to spend with his son, to continue his legendary sunrise workouts and to dig on some cartoons - and to let the events of the past year build up a substantial amount of anger, because Patriots' fans don't want to see his teddy bear side, they want to see the violent and unremorseful villain side of Harrison...

...only, they want to see him dish it out on opponents instead of on their team - and if they get to play the Steelers in the AFC Championship game, they want to see him take it all out on them. He won't need to stare them down during pregame warmups, nor tell them that they are going to die that day.

The Steelers already know what's coming, which makes Tomlin's decision to release Harrison when he did even more curious.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Game Plan, Play Calling come Into Question Following Patriots' Ugly Loss To Dolphins

As the saying goes, one bad apple doesn't spoil the whole bunch, but if one were to pluck the New England Patriots' Monday night bad apple from their season's tree, they would have immediately tossed it into the slop bucket.

No need to slice it open, because this one was marred with bruises and pock-marked with ugly worm holes.
Brady throwing gingerly off his back foot

For sure, the Patriots' 27-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins before a stunned National Television audience was enough to cause the team's many detractors to sing with glee their song of the Patriots' demise - but just like in the bad apple analogy, one bad game doesn't spoil their whole season.

It was ugly, make no mistake about that, and Patriots' fans everywhere are either desperately searching for reasons or excuses why their offense managed just 248 yards of total offense, or simply channeling their inner-Bill Belichick and muttering "We're on to Pittsburgh" - while Dolphins' fans are beating their chests and running amok in a frenzy, bellowing at the top of their lungs and spitting beer on tourists.

Because at 6-7, this game is probably going to be the highlight of their season - the Dolphins' Super Bowl, you might say - and anytime you can beat the defending champs so thoroughly and dominate them in every facet of the game, no one is going to blame you for whooping it up afterwards.

But while the Dolphins and their fans will have to settle for the elation of beating New England to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, the Patriots have much loftier thoughts, such as their upcoming heavyweight matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday which suddenly presents ominous consequences for them should they fall in the Steel City.

It was roundly expected that New England and Pittsburgh would meet at Heinz Field with identical 11-2 records in what was being billed as a winner-take-all fight for the top seed in the American Football Conference playoffs - but instead the Patriots limp into the contest at 10-3, and even though a win over the Steelers would again cause a tie atop the conference and a significant tie-breaker for New England, there is suddenly another team to be concerned about.

The Jacksonville Jaguars have suddenly emerged as a legitimate threat to break into the top two teams in the AFC with a record of 9-4 and a much easier schedule than either the Patriots or Steelers.

A loss by either team would put the Jags squarely in contention for one of the top two seeds, along with the resultant first round playoff bye and homefield advantage in the divisional round and perhaps beyond. A Patriots' loss to Pittsburgh and a Jacksonville win over Houston would give the Jaguars possession of the second seed in the conference, based on a better conference record (9-2 vs 7-3)...

...while a loss by the Steelers would put the Jaguars right on their doorstep with an identical conference record, but with Pittsburgh holding a razor-thin edge in the strength of victory tie-breaker, but with a proverbial cupcake schedule (at Houston, vs. Cleveland).

So, any way you slice it, the Patriots loss at Miami was rotten to the core and could have a tremendous impact on their season yield, particularly if quarterback Tom Brady's putrid performance was based more on health than on missing his main target in the passing game in tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Granted, without having to account for Gronkowski, the Dolphins' defenders were able to concentrate on manning-up against Brady's slim receiver depth chart and were able to take wide outs Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan completely out of the game on precision coverages by Xavien Howard and Bobby McCain, who both had capable safety help over the top since neither had to worry about Gronkowski...

...while linebackers Kiko Alonzo and Alterraun Verner focused on limiting the Patriots' fine stable of running backs - the result of which was an abysmal 24 of 43 performance by the obviously laterally-limited Brady for just 233 yards and two interceptions - both by Howard covering Cooks - and just one score, a three-yard out-flat to running back James White.

Obviously, those numbers are season-lows from Brady, but what really hurt the offensive effort was the lack of a ground game, as offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels called just ten running plays all game, resulting in only 25 yards, both season-lows.

Defensively, the Patriots struggled against the Dolphins' game plan, which was as vanilla and mundane as one could expect - yet given the losses to injury coupled with sheer exhaustion due to New England's offense's inability to sustain drives to give the defense their proper rest, it was as effective as anyone's.

Miami's full complement of speedy wide receivers and tight end Julius Thomas kept New England's secondary on their toes all night, leaving the decimated linebacking corps to deal with running back Kenyan Drake - who ran around the Patriots' defensive front and made the likes of interior run-stuffers Elandon Roberts and Jonathan Freeney have to chase Drake sideline to sideline...

...and in the passing game splitting Drake out wide and isolated on Roberts, who was like a stick in the mud against the speed of the the second year breakout candidate - and the results were predictable.

Touching the ball 30 times, Drake ran for 114 yards on 25 carries, but did most of his damage in the passing game, picking up 79 yards in just five receptions. Key weapon Jarvis Landry came in second to Drake totaling just 46 yards, but scoring two of Miami's three touchdowns.

In contrast, no Patriots' pass catcher topped 50 yards with the exception of Danny Amendola, who along with Cooks, padded his stats against Miami's two-deep zone once the Dolphins figured they had the game in hand.

But perhaps the worst slice of apple to come out of this debacle was the health status of Brady, who was beaten like he stole something - which wasn't entirely the fault of the offensive line, but more a combination of excellent coverage down the field by the Dolphins and Brady's gimpiness in the pocket, not sliding around and buying time like he normally does...

...and when he did release a ball, doing so almost chopping down on his front foot instead of stepping into his throws, causing many balls to drop sharply towards the turf and landing at the feet of his receivers. This was perhaps a combination of many factors, perhaps including a sore right Achilles tendon, which seemed to affect his ability to plant and step up, the physics of which suggest he would drive the ball into the turf short of his target.

If that is the case, then that could be what was responsible for both of his interceptions by Howard - not to mention that Howard was all over Cooks in a fantastic display of coverage skill - but it would also explain how even his trademark accuracy on intermediate an long throws  was replaced by short ducks that left his receivers with no chance.

But what hurt the Patriots the most was the fact that McDaniels abandoned the option of running the ball for the most part, and completely ignored it in the second half, even in situations where running the ball made the most sense - case in point being on a first-and-goal at the Miami one-yard line with a minute and a half remaining in a 10-point game, throwing three straight times and suffering two penalties which not only burned time off the clock, but forced them to settle for a field goal.

Not to mention that once the Patriots got some offensive momentum early in the fourth quarter and a comeback appeared to be tangible, Brady dropped back to throw on 21 consecutive plays over five fourth quarter possessions, when his exhausted defense dug deep and gave the ball back to the offense time and again.

All said and done, this loss lies on the coaching staff, who appeared to come into the game with a game plan custom-suited to play right into the strength of the Dolphins, then topped it off with questionable decisions in the play-calling area - particularly on offense.

Belichick has long said that players win games but coaches lose them - and on this particular night, his game plan had most everything to do with losing the game.

And now that his team has been backed into a corner and must have a win against Pittsburgh on Sunday, we will get to see if Monday night was just a fluke and an error in judgment, or if the Patriots lack the intestinal fortitude to go into a hostile environment and take what they want.

If they don't, they may find themselves on the outside looking in at Pittsburgh and Jacksonville, and hosting a wildcard game instead of getting that all-important late-season rest on a bye week.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Running Game, Defense Dominate In Patriots' Punking Of Buffalo

The Buffalo Bills came into their week thirteen contest against the New England Patriots averaging four yards per carry on offense, and giving up 4.1 yards per carry on defense, while the Patriots came in averaging that same 4.1 yards per carry but yielding an NFL worst 4.9 yards per run...

...obviously, both teams expected to be able to run the ball and both expected to give up some runs on defense - and both teams did just that.

The difference between winning and losing fell on the shoulders of each team's quarterback play - and when Tom Brady is in that mix, one can pretty much guess how Sunday's matchup at New Era Field turned out for both sides, everything else being equal.

Dion Lewis ran for 92 yards on fifteen carries and Rex Burkhead chipped in 78 yards on 12 carries to pace the New England's ground attack while Shady McCoy ground out 93 yards on 15 carries and three Bills' quarterbacks logged another 68 yards on seven scrambles to counter the Patriots' runners...

...but after a slow start, Brady put up 258 yards on 22 completions - nine going to tight end Rob Gronkowski for 147 yards - as the Patriots pulled away from Buffalo in the second half for their eighth straight victory, a 23-3 final score leaving the Bills teetering on the edge of playoff relevancy and pushing New England closer to an inevitable division title.

Overall, the Patriots totaled 191 yards on 35 carries while the Bills backs romped for 183 yards on 26 carries - a virtual wash which left the game in the hands of Brady and Buffalo's Tyrod Taylor, which just isn't fair.

Taylor has perhaps the worst pass catching corps in the National Football League, which helps explain his 9 for 18 performance for just 65 yards - and even a quarterback change in the fourth quarter didn't help, as rookie Nathan Peterman fared even worse, going 6 for 15 for 50 yards, but leading a late drive that nearly resulted in points, were it not for former Bills' cornerback Stephon Gilmore putting in his best performance as a Patriot...

...perfectly playing the ball on three Peterman passes, two of which were lofts into the end zone that Gilmore knocked harmlessly to the ground. How bad was it for Buffalo's maligned pass catching corps? Their leading receiver on the day was rookie Zay Jones, who caught just two of seven targets, for a miserable 22 yards.

Brady, on the other hand, has one of the best stables of pass catchers in the league, even with wide receivers Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan on the shelf - but he had a tough time connecting with them on Sunday as Buffalo's two-deep zone proved to be a brick wall outside the numbers during the first half of the game, holding the sure first-ballot Hall of Famer to just eight of fourteen for 98 yards.

But the Patriots rectified that by going to Gronkowski, who came out of the room at halftime like a lobsterman off the Calendar Islands, snaring passes from Brady for fifty of the Patriots seventy yards on New England's first touchdown drive, which would have been even more had he not been called for a sketchy offensive pass interference early in the drive.

Burkhead finished off that drive with a short power shot to give New England a two-score lead, then got loose on the second level for a 14 yard score on the next possession, set up by a Gronkowski 30-yard 50-50 jump ball over Buffalo's TreDavious White on a play that epitomized the massive man-child's athletic superiority over any defender he squares off against...

...and which may have precipitated an ugly incident at the end of the game where White was grappling with Gronkowski in the pattern, then gave him a shove as the ball was in the air, intercepting the ball with ease - but then had his bell rung on a cheap shot by a frustrated Gronkowski who gave White his own rendition of a WWE-style elbow to his head while he was prone on the sidelines.

The incident left a black stain on what was otherwise an outstanding half of football for Gronkowski and has resulted in a one-game suspension, but it may bring into focus the constant mugging that Gronkowski has to endure from defensive backs and linebackers, which could ultimately change the way that referees officiate and give him a little more latitude in the pattern.

Then again, maybe not, but the fact remains that Gronkowski's momentary lack of discipline stemmed from the frustration of having to fight off defenders just to get his hands on the football. "I felt like he pushed me and made the play, I just didn't understand why there wasn't a flag." Gronkowski said after the game, adding, "it was a couple of times in the game, and they're calling me for the craziest stuff ever. And it's crazy, like, what am I supposed to do?"

Well, the first thing he needs to do is meet with the league commissioner on Tuesday morning to appeal his one-game suspension handed down by the NFL on Monday afternoon, and plead his case.

His frustration is understandable, if not tolerated, and it makes one wonder if there are different rules for different players - but don't say that to the Patriots' defenders, who had a banner day covering Buffalo's receivers and, with sack yardage deducted, held the Bills' passing game to a putrid 89 net yards...

...all while holding their eighth consecutive opponent to less than 17 points, the lone field goal surrendered dropping their points per game average during their winning streak to 11.8 and elevates them to a top ten scoring defense at the same time.

Not bad for a defense that started the year being pummeled in their first four games to the tune of 32 points per game, which has now dropped to a season-low mark of 18.5.

Stephon Gilmore earned high praise for his coverage, allowing just two catches over six targets and notching tow passes defended - but he wasn't alone in the encouraging play as combined with Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe and Jonathan Jones, the Bills' quarterbacks were 6 of 17 for 56 yards and a dismal passer rating of 54.2...

...while New England's pass rushers abused the Bills' offensive line, getting to Taylor for four sacks, former Buffalo practice squader Eric Lee in on the action for a sack-and-a-half , logged four tackles and picked off Taylor in the red zone to squelch an early Bills' scoring opportunity - and to add insult to injury, former Buffalo defensive tackle Alan Branch drove his mirror into Taylor as he released that ball, leading to the errant throw that Lee gathered in.

Ah, teamwork. Bill Belichick calls it complementary football, and combined with another instance of excellent special teams play, the Patriots are nearing their pinnacle of execution for the season - meaning that what we see now is what we get for the remainder of the season.

And with the running game dominating, opening up the play action for the passing game and the defense playing out of their minds, this 2017 version of the New England Patriots look like they are primed for yet another deep run in the postseason - and they can wrap up a ninth consecutive division title - and their 15th out of 17 with Brady at the helm - with a win at Miami next Monday night...

Friday, December 1, 2017

Dion Lewis Is Football's Version of Hockey's "Little Ball Of Hate"

Dion Lewis runs angry.

How else to you describe how a running back with the stature of a standard garden gnome averages over five yards per carry against some of the most ferocious front sevens in professional football, and especially when most of his carries go right into the teeth of the defense?

At 5' 8" tall (which may be a generous altitude) and 195 pounds, Lewis may be small in stature, but is hardly as fragile as the aforementioned garden gnome - his injury history has all been non-contact - as he possesses a powerfully built lower body which aids him in breaking arm tackles, as evidenced by his performance against the Miami Dolphins last Sunday, when he ran right through the tall trees a season-high fifteen times for a career-high 112 yards.

Used sparingly in the first four games of the season while the Patriots gave newcomer Mike Gillislee every opportunity to take the lead back role for himself, Lewis has effectively supplanted the power runner from Buffalo, his video-game like elusiveness combined with powerful getaway sticks providing New England with 5.1 yards per carry in the past seven games as their lead back.

But his success goes beyond simple statistics.

The folks at Football Outsiders provide an insanely complicated formula for expressing the value of a running back to their team called Defense-Adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR) that tells tale of what would happen to a team's carries and rushing yards should the player be absent, however that occurs - not from how his replacement would fare, but how the league average for replacement players hold up against the absent running back.

Madness, all of it, but it paints a picture that may shock football fans as Lewis is rated as the fourth-best "lead back" in the National Football League - trailing only the Saints' Mark Ingram, the Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott and Chicago's Jordan Howard - as it is estimated that for the season, the Patriots would have lost nearly 15% of their ground yardage without Lewis.

That's some rarefied air, but it gets better.

The same folks that provide the formula for DYAR also generate a formula to measure the effectiveness of a back based on several variables - like success rate in the red zone, down and distance and quality of opponent - that they call Defensive-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), again the average being the average of all NFL running backs...

...of which Lewis rates an astounding 29.5% above all of his peers, with Ingram and Tennessee's Derrick Henry coming in second and third, respectively, lagging more that ten percentage points behind.

So, what is behind these statistics that label Lewis the best runner in the game? Patriots' safety Devin McCourty thinks he knows. "Man, it's tough." McCourty exclaimed when asked how challenging it is to face Lewis in practices, "We try to get as many players as we can around him, but he runs with such confidence and and runs with anger."

"It's football, you know?" Lewis said of what provocates his attitude when running the ball. "Football is an emotional game. It's a physical game. You put your all into this, so of course you're going to get some chippiness, but it's part of the game."

Kind of sounds like hockey player there, doesn't he? And with his stature married with his anger, Lewis could be considered football's version of a "Little Ball of Hate" - and he's in the right area to carry that moniker, as the Boston Bruins' Brad Marchand carries that title on the ice.

So Lewis doesn't deny that he runs with anger, but that is to be expected from a guy who has always been the shortest guy on the team no matter where he's been, be it at Pitt in college or in Philadelphia, Cleveland or Foxborough in the pros - so he can be excused for letting a thing called the Napoleon Syndrome emote while carrying the football. Or blocking in pass protection. Or in the pattern, or even in the return game...

...there is no limit to how far a chip on the shoulder can take a guy, so long as he is disciplined in how he uses it and projects it. "My job is to protect the ball and to make plays" Lewis says, bypassing the self-promotion that one might hear elsewhere, adding, "That's my job in the offense and it's what I try to do every game. Just protect the ball and try to make plays when I get the opportunity."

And his opportunities have increased incrementally with each game during the Patriots seven-game winning streak, but is still only averaging 13 carries per game in that time period - the rest going to Rex Burkhead who, because of injury, doesn't have enough carries to qualify for the list - with passing back James White thrown into the mix every now and then.

But it is Lewis that makes the running game go, which makes the play action work, which helps keep quarterback Tom Brady upright, which gives the pass catchers time to break into their routes, which...well, you get the picture.

"It's a part of the running game to help us out with play action" gushed a naturally upbeat tight end Rob Gronkowksi after the win over Miami, "When you get open like that, it's set up previously. We were running the ball super good today."

The Patriots are a pass-first team - and why not, with Brady calling the shots? But Lewis and the other backs provide the type of balance that Brady needs to force the defense to defend the entire field - and when they are forced to do that, someone is going to be open or someone is going to have a running lane...

...but even if the lane is not there, Lewis can make his own, as his absurd 4.47 yards per carry after contact will attest, ranking him first in the NFL by a considerable margin.

But, what else would you expect from a guy who is football's version of the Little Ball of Hate?