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The Dolphins need to plan for Dion Lewis for Week 1

The Titans’ new back is a familiar foe that has stung the Dolphins’ defense in the past.

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

At long last Miami Dolphins football is here, and the team opens the 2018 season at home against the Tennessee Titans. Miami has won two of the last three matchups since 2015, including a 16-10 win last year.

The Titans include a bunch of new faces such as Harold Landry, Rashaan Evans, Malcolm Butler, offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, head coach Mike Vrabel, and running back Dion Lewis.

Last season, Lewis rushed for 890 yards and six touchdowns while also putting 214 yards and three touchdowns as a receiver. He took over as the starting back for the Patriots in the second half of the season, and non coincidentally that’s when he looked his best.

Incredibly, as a runner Dion Lewis finished first in Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement with 273 DYAR, and was also first in Pro Football Focus’ elusive rating thanks to 49 missed tackles and 3.17 yards after contact. For both stats, his means he was higher than guys like Todd Gurley, Le’Veon Bell, Kareem Hunt and Alvin Kamara. This doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a better player than anyone of those guys, but what it highlights is how high quality of a player he is.

Dolphins fans should know. After all, Lewis shredded the Dolphins defense in week 12 last year for 112 rushing yards on 15 carries. Miami was able to better defend him in week 14—where he only had 17 yards on five carries, but he still added 50 receiving yards on five catches.

While Corey Davis, Delanie Walker and Derrick Henry will likely have big roles on Sunday—as well they should—a close eye needs to be kept on Dion Lewis.

Dion Lewis is more than just a third down back, and it can be argued he’s a better player than Derrick Henry. While Lewis has had his issues with staying healthy, when he is on the field he’s a phenomenal, highly efficient talent.

Of course, this clip is from the aforementioned week 12 matchup at New England. You can say Lewis is hard to tackle because he’s slippery, but it’s also because he runs at a great pad level. His ability to wear defenses down combined with his quickness and speed make him a dangerous player in addition to one that’s fun to watch.

As you may have guessed, Lewis’ quickness is also lethal in the passing game. His performance against the Raiders was a turning point in the Patriots’ backfield last year, as he solidified his spot as the team’s starting back.

Here, Lewis is running a simple route in the flat against zone coverage. He accelerates forward past the line of scrimmage before out-breaking on his route. Tom Brady throws to him and Lewis puts himself in a perfect position to get the first down and yards after the catch. As soon as he cradles the ball in his hands, he plants on his left foot, pushes backward, and drags his right foot away from the defensive back. From there, Lewis accelerates forward then cuts inside, diving head first for a phenomenal touchdown.

Lewis definitely gets credit for his quickness and agility, but what’s so understated about him is how powerful he is for someone of his size (5 ft. 8, 195 lb.).

As soon as Lewis gets the ball on this play, he uses his quick vision to cut through a hole up the middle in a flash. He’s able to slip by a tackle—again running at a fine pad level—and then cutting the corner, where he then applies a vicious stiff arm on the safety Jordan Poyer. Obviously Lewis’ ability to quickly exploit gaps is noteworthy, but for someone of his size, the power he’s able to showcase on some of his runs is extremely impressive.

Dion Lewis will be a big test for the Dolphins’ linebackers in the pass game. Lewis must be contained in the underneath game because that puts more pressure for Marcus Mariota to connect with the receiving corps, which—aside from Delanie Walker—have not had a lot of experience and remain unknown and unproven at this point. Matt LaFleur was part of a highly creative coaching staff in Atlanta and Los Angeles that prioritized heavily on his receiving backs, so you can bet he’ll do the same for Lewis.

As a runner, Lewis is also really good, so the front is, of course, also put to the test. If Lewis can be defended as well as he was in week 14 last year, that puts more pressure on the skill players elsewhere to contribute. Expect option plays and creative route combinations to be part of LaFleur’s attack, though, so it might be easier said than done.

Either way, containing the talented Dion Lewis will put Miami one step closer to attempting to secure a home victory to start 1-0 on the year.