FOXBORO — Whatever metric you want to use, the Cowboys are one of the worst teams in the league at containing running backs in the passing game.
Through four games, Dallas has yielded 333 receiving yards against running backs, second only to Atlanta (365 receiving yards). Football Outsiders has the Cowboys 31st in the passing game against running backs using their DVOA metric. In the opener, it wad old pal Shane Vereen with four catches on five targets for 46 yards for the Giants. In Week 2 against the Eagles, DeMarco Murray and Darren Sproles gashed the Cowboys pass defense for a combined nine catches for 76 yards. And in Week 3 against the Falcons, Davonta Freeman had five catches on five targets for 52 yards.
But those breakdowns were never more apparent than last Sunday against New Orleans. Not only did Mark Ingram finish with six catches on seven targets for 51 yards, but quarterback Drew Brees found C.J. Spiller on a quick pass out of the backfield in overtime and the veteran took it 80 yards to help lift the Saints to an dramatic win against the Cowboys.
Fortunately for the Patriots, they have one of the best early-season options in the passing game out of the backfield in Dion Lewis. Through three games, the newcomer was one of two backs with at least 30 carries and 15 catches, while he was one of three to have at least 100 yards rushing and 100 yards receiving. (Those numbers included a wildly successful 138 yards from scrimmage in a Week 2 win over the Bills.) Expect New England to utilize Lewis in much the same fashion it has over the course of the first three games of the season — quick passes designed to get the shifty Lewis in space against a linebacker.
“His quickness and the way he makes guys miss is just unreal,” said tight end Rob Gronkowski. “I wish I had those moves.”
“There’s a lot of movement up front,” Lewis said of the Dallas defense. “The front seven is really good, and they’ve got two great defenders coming back. And we’ve got a lot of work to do. It’s not going to be easy.”
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