Blasberg ’18: Dion Lewis continues the legacy of 33

Sports Columnist
Friday, October 16, 2015

When the number 33 is mentioned in or around Boston, one name generally comes to mind: Larry Bird. Dion Lewis, however, is giving the number new meaning for the Patriots.

From 1999 to 2011, Kevin Faulk wore number 33 but was never the Patriots’ primary running back. But he did end up being one of the team’s longest tenured players by the end of his career. Despite his limited role, Faulk took each small task seriously and personified the Patriots’ values of meticulous preparation and solid execution. Due to his speed and smarts, Faulk was a dangerous ball carrier as well an effective option on the screen.

When situations became more crucial, Faulk was known to rise to each occasion. A third-and-long specialist and a terrific blocker, Faulk was an integral part of the Patriots’ reign of terror in the first decade of the 2000s.

This season, Lewis, an off-season acquisition from the Indianapolis Colts, won the starting running back spot as the Patriots’ top three rushers from 2014 have matriculated to other teams. Sporting number 33, Lewis is now splitting time with power back LaGarrette Blount, and Lewis has far exceeded any preseason expectations. Taking on a role very similar to that of Faulk, Lewis is continuing the legacy of the number 33 on the Patriots.

While the Patriots’ 2015 revenge march has been characterized by Tom Brady’s ability to take over games and the coaching staff’s tendency to be consistently better prepared than the opponents every Sunday, Lewis has been quietly doing his job well. The Patriots pass more than almost any other team in the league, and the only teams that pass more often are ones that fall behind early and are forced to air the ball out in the second half. As a result, Lewis, like Faulk, is underappreciated by fans. But evidenced by Faulk’s long tenure in New England, these backs are valued by the coaches and the organization.

Both Faulk and Lewis stand at a mere 5-foot-8, notably shorter than their teammates. In the huddle, the tops of their helmets reach the shoulder pads of the offensive linemen. Their low centers of gravity aid shiftiness and make them elusive to taller defenders. They are both very astute at picking up blitzing linebackers on pass plays, and they make effective screen pass options. It is not uncommon to see Lewis in the slot, as he has already made several big plays as a receiver. On third-and-longs, Head Coach Bill Belichick has a proclivity to calling draws for his small backs, as Faulk and Lewis routinely pick up seven to eight yards and get the Patriots out of trouble.

Lewis will not turn into a big-name running back in the NFL because the Patriots pass too much. But he is better than he has gotten credit for so far. A receiving, rushing and blocking threat, Lewis has taken after Faulk as a versatile and hard-nosed running back.