Tom Brady remains the big constant in the Patriots’ last two Super Bowl victories. Obviously. But he also had a key weapon in each of those games, and it came from two different players at the same position.
It’s no secret that Brady likes to throw to the running backs when it’s available, but the Seahawks and Falcons still couldn’t stop it in Super Bowl XLIX and Super Bowl LI, respectively. He has a good chance to again use the receiving backs to his advantage on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII.
And this time, he has at least two capable weapons at his disposal. Both Dion Lewis and James White have a chance to be the next Shane Vereen or … James White.
“It’s Very Important”
For most of the 2017 season, Dion Lewis has been the same dynamic back that came out of nowhere in 2015. Fully recovered from a torn ACL that slowed him in 2016, Lewis is now one of Brady’s top-3 biggest threats as a target. But until recently, Lewis mostly carried the rock on the ground.
In the playoffs, it’s looked a little different. And it could mean big things for him in the Super Bowl. After making 17 catches in the final four games of the regular season, Lewis has caught 16 passes in two playoff games. And when he spoke during his media availability ahead of the Super Bowl, he acknowledged how crucial it can be to make the Eagles respect his ability to catch out of the backfield.
“It’s very important, just being able to get the ball out quickly in our hands to make plays, try to make some guys miss in the open field,” said Lewis. “It would definitely be great to be able to do that.”
The Eagles defense allowed the 10th-most receptions to running backs (91) in the NFL in the regular season. And in two playoff games, opposing running backs have caught 19 of 21 targets for 137 yards and a touchdown, despite the Eagles winning both. So if the Falcons and Vikings can exploit the running backs’ matchup against the Eagles D, there’s reason to believe that Brady can do the same with Lewis.
And if No. 33 can’t, perhaps No. 28 can.
“Previous Games Don’t Really Matter”
Few moments in Patriots Super Bowl history felt more demoralizing than Robert Alford’s pick-six to put the Falcons up 21-0 in Super Bowl LI. Late in the second quarter, Brady and the Patriots suddenly faced the task of doing something that had never been done before to win a Super Bowl. It certainly didn’t feel at the time like they could do it.
But something happened … James White caught a pass. And another. And another. He sparked the offense to finally get on the board and make it 21-3. Although the Patriots would then go down by the now-famous 28-3 score, White simply wouldn’t stop reeling in the football and gaining chunks of yardage.
If not for Brady’s obvious greatness, White would have been the easy MVP choice for Super Bowl LI. He amassed an incredible 14 catches for 110 yards and a touchdown, and added six rushes for 29 yards and two rushing touchdowns, including the game-winner. Oh, and a two-point conversion on a direct snap in the fourth quarter.
Still, as you might expect, White isn’t thinking about last year. He’s thinking about Sunday.
“All the previous games don’t really matter,” said White during his media availability on Thursday. “Our focus is on this year, studying up on the Eagles, just trying to be the best that I can be out there. Just do whatever I can to help my team get a win, know my role, and do well.”
It’s also essentially a coincidence that the Patriots’ receiving backs have had so much success in recent Super Bowls. Brady doesn’t just decide to throw to the running backs because it’s the Super Bowl. It came down to the individual games and their respective situations.
“It just depends on how the team decides to match up against you,” said White. “The running back can be a factor, but you never know how the game’s gonna go. I do my job, whether it’s catching the ball, running, blocking, one play, 100 plays. I just want to do whatever I can.”
What To Expect
Considering the success that the Eagles’ last two opponents had getting the ball to their running backs in the passing game, it would be surprising if Brady and Bill Belichick don’t find similar advantages. Super Bowl LII is a little different in that there are two reliable backs that Brady can deliver the ball to, and it’s clear that he trusts both Lewis and White to make plays when he needs them. Maybe even Rex Burkhead works his way in.
The key for the Eagles in the Super Bowl, like any Patriots opponent, is limit Brady’s time to throw in the pocket. They’re potentially equipped to do so. But if they can’t get to Brady in time, the quarterback has a good chance to once again make his running backs one of his top weapons. And that’s without even mentioning a healthy Rob Gronkowski and clutch Danny Amendola.
Lewis and White will do their jobs, regardless of what it is. On Sunday, it could be one of their biggest workloads yet. It will be up to the Patriots offensive line to give Brady time to get them the ball. And if they do, the receiving backs have a good chance to, yet again, help carry the offense to a championship.
— By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.