Super Bowl LI hero James White saw his playing time sky-rocket in Monday night’s loss to the Miami Dolphins. White led all running backs in total snaps with 35 according to ESPN’s Mike Reiss.
This may be a bit of a surprise. The duo of Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead have really taken over the New England backfield in the 2017 season. This has especially been the case in running situations. White’s main action has come in games that Burkhead was inactive. Recently, the Patriots have been focused on a balanced attack.
In weeks nine through 12, White failed to reach 20 snaps in three of four games played. He tallied just 11 snaps against Denver, 17 against Oakland, 18 in the week 11 Miami game, and then broke out for 28 plays against Buffalo.
In the meantime, Lewis and Burkhead have gotten at least 20 snaps offensively each. They’ve often approached 30 in the same stretch.
“Do Your Job”
Lewis and Burkhead are considered more natural runners as opposed to White. The man they call, Sweet Feet” is now essentially a running back, turned wide receiver for a talented team. In his 35 snaps Monday night, White didn’t take a single hand-off from quarterback Tom Brady.
It appears that the time split between the running backs largely depends on two criteria. White sees more action in obvious passing scenarios, while Lewis and Burkhead carry the load in the run game.
Another reason for White’s increased usage Monday was the absence of Rob Gronkowski. Losing him to a suspension for his hit on Bills rookie Tre’Davious White hurt the passing game. Since White is the more natural receiver of the running back group, it’s not too surprising to see him get more time.
As the Patriots head into the final few games of the regular season, they will closely look at the skilled positions. Gronkowski will be back from his suspension, and the Patriots made another splash with the addition of embattled wide receiver Kenny Britt.
Both of these moves could put White’s playing time back in jeopardy in the coming weeks. Getting Gronkowski back was going to do that anyway, but now you add Britt to a wide receiver group that is also getting Chris Hogan back healthy at the same time.
If Lewis and Burkhead continue to perform the way they have recently, White could find himself as the odd man out on a field full of talent. It’s a wonderful problem for New England to have as a team, but only time will tell how it all shakes out.
–Chris Morgan is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @THECapnMorgan76