The Dion Lewis Problem

Posted: August 6th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 20 Comments »

This has nothing to do with hotels or fire alarms.  This is strictly a football issue.  Nonetheless, Dion Lewis could become a problem for both Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg.

You see, in recent years the Eagles have fed the ball to the starting tailback and largely ignored the RBs behind him.  That was easy enough to do when it was a rookie, an injury prone player, or a veteran who was new to the team.

Dion is none of those things.

The Eagles drafted him.  He had an okay rookie year, but nothing special.  With the benefit of a full offseason in which to get in top shape and master the playbook, Lewis has emerged as one of the stars of Lehigh.  His 2012 season is off to an excellent start.

Lewis needs to pass more tests.  First, he must shine in the preseason games.  Then he must play well in the first couple of regular season games.  If these things happen…Marty/Andy must find a way to use him.  They cannot ignore him.

Lewis has been terrific at Lehigh.  He’s running the ball well, not just in space, but also on the inside.  Lewis (lists at 5-8, 195) isn’t a big guy, but he was a workhorse RB at Pitt.  He knows how to run iso plays and slam the ball up inside.  He’s not a “toy”.

Where Lewis has really shined to me this year is on screen passes.  When out in space, he’s made Eagles defenders look silly.  For those who think this might be Bad Tackling, Vol. 2, it isn’t.  Lewis is using some wicked moves to leave defenders reaching for air.  He looks dynamic out in space.  Once Lewis has beaten the first defender, he uses his burst/speed to get some separation and turn a short gain into a long play.

If Lewis can deliver big plays in games, the Eagles cannot ignore that.  IF…is the key word.  We all know that Andy/Marty will gladly use him 3 to 4 times a game under normal circumstances.  They talk about getting more work for the backup runners, but it never is more than just talk.  This could change in 2012.

If you rewind to 2003, the Eagles used the “3-headed monster” of Duce, Buck, and Westy.  That set of RBs was tremendous.  They had different skill sets and worked very well together.  The next year Duce was off to the Steelers and Buck to the IR.  That left Westy all alone and that’s when the habit of going with a single RB began.

As Westy proved to be a great player, it was easy to keep giving him the ball and not wanting to take him off the field.  This was true from 2006-2008.  Buck had gotten healthy by then and proved to be a good player, but the Eagles under-used him.  They stuck with Westy most of the time.

After Shady McCoy’s great 2011 season, you would think it would be hard to mix in another RB.  Isn’t this Westy 2.0?  That’s what we saw last year.  Ronnie Brown averaged 17.3 touches per game for his career prior to last year.  In 2011, he had 42 touches for the entire season.  Certainly the goal line debacle in the SF game hurt him, but the coaches weren’t using him enough prior to that.

Dion Lewis could be the RB to change all of this.  The key is that he’s not just a runner.  Dion, based on this summer, looks like he could be a weapon in the passing game as well.  He must show that he can be counted on as a blocker.  For those who might compare him to Ryan Moats because both guys are small, don’t.  Lewis is already an infinitely better blocker than Moats was.

I hope Dion lights it up vs Pittsburgh on Thursday.  I hope he does the same the next week and that carries over to September.  I want the Eagles to get back to the days of embracing multiple RBs.  I don’t expect Dion to suddenly get 10 carries a game.  The days of Charlie Garner and Ricky Watters aren’t coming back.  I would like to see Lewis getting regular touches, whether runs or catches.  An offense must get touches by the RBs to be at its best.

If Dion runs for 3 yards a pop, he’ll get phased out of the gameplans very quickly.  If he can average 4.5 ypc and deliver some big plays in the passing game, the coaches will start to see him as a weapon and not just a backup.  He’s already got their attention up at Lehigh.  Let’s hope this is a first step in him causing the offense to change a bit.  There is still a long way to go, but so far, so good.

* * * * *

The Eagles signed LB Adrian Moten.  To do this, they cut WR Andrew Brewer.  This move could have been made in preparation for the Steelers game.  We had 9 LBs on the roster.  If anyone got hurt, it would have meant double duty for someone.  Now they have Moten to provide insurance and help eat up game reps.

I liked him as a prospect prior to the 2011 draft.  He has NFL potential.  He’s bounced around in his short NFL career so that tells you that he’s not good enough to stick anywhere, but is talented enough that teams are interested in him.

* * * * *

The Eagles released the first official depth chart of 2012.  No major surprises, unless you get fired up by seeing Matt McBriar ahead of Chas Henry.  Still interesting to check out.

* * * * *

Jimmy Bama and I did another podcast.  His levels are really low on this episode.  My apologies in advance.  I will beat Jimmy with a NYC phone book if he doesn’t get the volume issue fixed.  I’ve already made him run extra laps after the show, but that apparently wasn’t enough.

We talked about Andy Reid initially.  We then got into Kevin Thomas, more on the backup OL, Howard Mudd and the Muddmobile, and finished up with me butchering the name of the show.

* * * * *

Great piece by Reuben Frank on Andy Reid and family.


20 Comments on “The Dion Lewis Problem”

  1. 1 izzylangfan said at 12:43 PM on August 6th, 2012:

    Maybe it wasn’t that much of a surprise that Chad Hall was ahead of Damaris Johnson, but I was definitely surprised that Elvis Akpla was ahead of Johnson. I think Reid may overstate or understate their actual position on the depth chart in order to keep certain players motivated. Also perhaps Reid may be unwilling to change some places until he sees them in games.

    I was initially surprised to see that Dixon was as high as second team. But then I realized that Patterson is not on the chart. Do you think that Dixon will be one of those players that shows up better in games? I wonder that he just might not be a Washburn type guy.

    Congrats on Derek Landri making first team.

  2. 2 teltschikfakeout88 said at 1:07 PM on August 6th, 2012:

    I think you are right about why Elivs Akpla is higher on the WR depth chart. However, Johnson is the first team PR and second team KOR. As long as that does not change, he will make the team as the 5th or 6th WR. Where he is slotted at WR for the first pre-season game has no bearing on his chances of making the team, in my opinion.

  3. 3 TheRogerPodacter said at 1:58 PM on August 6th, 2012:

    i haven’t heard anything about Akpla this offseason. good or bad. i dont know what that means for a backup WR, but it can’t be good…

  4. 4 Dave_King said at 2:27 PM on August 6th, 2012:

    No, Damaris is ahead. They don’t have enough room to put all of the names on one line, which is why he’s on a second line. That line in full would read – Jackson, Avant, Hall, Johnson, Akpla, Jacobson.

  5. 5 iskar36 said at 12:51 PM on August 6th, 2012:

    When I first started reading this article, I kind of groaned hearing the “will Andy Reid use his backup running back more this year” line. It’s something we talk about every year, but it simply never changes. The line about the backup running
    “That was easy enough to do when it was a rookie, an injury prone player, or a veteran who was new to the team” did cause me to pause though. Looking back to when we used the 3 headed monster, that excuse could certainly be used for every backup RB we have had.

    Still, I have major doubts, regardless of how Lewis performs, that he will see any significant number of touches this season. The offense is full of weapons, and regardless of if AR wants to use McCoy less, I just see the majority of those touches going to the TEs and WRs, not to Lewis. I really hope AR proves me wrong, but I don’t see Lewis getting much more than 5 touches/game at best.

  6. 6 TommyLawlor said at 12:59 PM on August 6th, 2012:

    The key for me is that Dion has to look great in order for the Eagles to use him more. If he’s just good, it will be more of the same.

  7. 7 bridgecoach said at 3:51 PM on August 6th, 2012:

    I think the player most likely to lose playing time due to Dion’s emergence is Chad Hall.

  8. 8 T_S_O_P said at 4:25 PM on August 6th, 2012:

    I’m not sure that is significant enough to make any difference.

  9. 9 T_S_O_P said at 4:55 PM on August 6th, 2012:

    After checking the almanac, Chad Hall took away Lewis’s snap count from weeks 10 – 12, who got no snaps during this period. Hall was used more in this period (more snaps per game) than Lewis had been used or was used thereafter other than his extended play against the ‘Skins. Hall was however not exclusively used as a RB, so I still think it is an insignificant number of snaps

  10. 10 rage114 said at 2:45 PM on August 6th, 2012:

    In past years, couldn’t the notion that the Eagles don’t like to use backup RB be attributed to lack of blocking? I seem to recall that, particularly in the case of Moats, that the main reason these players don’t see the field more was less about experience and more about blocking.

    So, is Lewis at a point where AR and Co and rely on him as a blocker?

    The one constant with AR’s teams is that the offense is predicated on misdirection (to some extent). If there is a player that only comes in the game intermittently and the defense knows he can’t block, then they can deduce that he will be a major part of the play.

    Now, if he can block, then I can see his touches going up quite a bit. Two back sets anyone? Sometimes, Lesean releases, sometimes Dion….

  11. 11 T_S_O_P said at 3:29 PM on August 6th, 2012:

    Buck’s blocking in ’07 and ’08 were fine. Moats (that’s him) got his carries up to the change. 22 carries in ’06 in 8 games. That is nearly 4 carries a game on average. He was the 3rd back! I’d be more than happy with that level of distrust for my number 2 back let alone my 3rd back.

  12. 12 Eric Weaver said at 12:56 PM on August 6th, 2012:

    I think I had mentioned to Brian S. that I thought Moten could be a nice addition after he was released. Time will tell.

  13. 13 TommyLawlor said at 1:00 PM on August 6th, 2012:

    Good call. They did have some interest in him prior to the 2011 draft.

  14. 14 iskar36 said at 12:56 PM on August 6th, 2012:

    On a separate note, I know it is a faux pas in these parts to question Landri, but is anyone else concerned about the DT situation as it stands right now? We’ll have to see what happens with Patterson, but with him out, is Landri really good enough as the starting DT? I mean even Tommy was saying all summer that he expected Dixon to start over Landri by the time the season starts, but so far, Dixon has looked awful. Landri as the starter just makes me a bit nervous, and because Dixon is struggling so much, it doesn’t seem we have a good option behind him (I would love Cox to get some playing time, but I’m under the impression he is better suited for the other DT spot).

  15. 15 TommyLawlor said at 12:58 PM on August 6th, 2012:

    My only concern with Landri as the starter is if he will be at his best, given the fact he’d be playing an increased number of snaps. So far in TC he’s been regularly disruptive and is playing a lot. I’m actually now curious to see how good he could be as our starting NT.

  16. 16 T_S_O_P said at 2:46 PM on August 6th, 2012:

    Kelce stated that Landi was the Eagles best DT, or the one he finds hardest to go up against.

  17. 17 T_S_O_P said at 2:45 PM on August 6th, 2012:

    I don’t know what to say? I don’t want to sound like a broken record. Didn’t we have this conversation when Ronnie arrived? However, I’d also like to think we have a stable of backs which is going to force Marty’s hand. He clearly likes the stability of 1 back in game situation, so much so that his when he took over playcalling midway through ’06, there was a clear difference in the distribution of the football between the running backs. That has never changed except McCoy’s rookie year in which Westy was mostly injured.

    In that 2006 season, all 3 backs, Buck, Westy and the guy from Louisiana Tech (can’t remember his name but you liked him a lot coming out of college) got the ball. After the Indy game, Marty did what I just did, forgot the man from Louisiana Tech. He also reduced Buck’s touches. In Detroit, where he didn’t have a back of the quality or ability of either Westy or Shady, he still used 1 back or another, over using both in the game. Go back further to his SF years and it is the same. He clearly has reasons other than only having 1 good back.

    I read an article, which to my chagrin I cannot find (damn Google) by Bill Walsh (or quoting him) about scripting plays and how he liked to probe with different backs during those plays to see which he may have the most success with.If it wasn’t from Walsh it was Green Bay’s way of running the WCO. In fact, it have been Mooch who said it in interview or in script. No wonder I can’t find it!!! 🙂 Regardless of who said, and assuming that my memory is credible, this way of doing things was far more evident from 1999 – 2005.

    From what I can see, it will be a shift of philosophy for Marty despite coming through and being around. Andy trusts his coaches. This to me is the problem. It is why he and we have been so successful. He does however seem very involved this year with the backs. Also, Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuce and Buck are on the coaching staff. Maybe, just maybe.

  18. 18 izzylangfan said at 4:33 PM on August 6th, 2012:

    If the choice for the 5th DT is between Dixon and Thornton – I wonder how that plays out as to whether the Eagles want a third nose tackle or a third under tackle. Darryl Tapp (who might not make the team) and Brandon Graham could move in and play UT and I’m not sure that the Eagles would be happy about moving Cox to NT in his rookie year. The fifth tackle will probably not be active on game days so it seems that the primary concern should be injuries and in that case a NT might give the best insurance.

  19. 19 iskar36 said at 4:46 PM on August 6th, 2012:

    If Patterson comes back by the time final cuts are happening, I could very easily see Dixon being on the outside looking in. However, if Patterson remains out for an extended period of time, I think Dixon’s chances of making the team over Thornton are significantly improved. Landri would be our only healthy NT, and we are not even sure he can be effective for a full year as a starting DT.

  20. 20 ICDogg said at 4:46 PM on August 6th, 2012:

    I think there also has to be a trust level with what a player does when he is *not* getting the ball. If the blitz is coming on a passing play, he has to know his responsibilities and adjust what he is doing and chip a defender if he has to. Even if Lewis does well with his carries and receptions he won’t get a lot of playing time unless he is also trusted on those other plays.