Despite coming up just short, New England’s offense came out firing on Sunday night against the Seahawks. Cam Newton totaled the third-most passing yards in a single game for his career, while N’Keal Harry and Julian Edelman both had career games receiving.
However, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses for every member of the offense. While the running game wasn’t established the same way it was against Miami, Sony Michel came up short once again. In seven carries, the running back tallied just 19 yards. He even saw his offensive snap count drop from 19 in Week 1 to 15 on Sunday.
Once a first-round pick, Michel has had his inconsistencies at the NFL level. Injuries plagued him immediately his rookie season. However, thanks to perhaps the best offensive line in football, the Georgia product finished with 931 yards. He achieved that on a 4.5-yard average per-carry. But since then, it’s been a downward spiral for Michel.
In 2019, he played all 16 games, tallied 38 more carries, but 19 fewer yards. Consequently, dropping his yards-per-carry from 4.5 in 2018 to just 3.7 last year. Many attributed it to the losses Michel faced in front of him. In 2018, he benefitted from two dominant blocking tight ends (Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen). He also had the 6-foot-8, 355-pound Trent Brown sealing the left edge for him. Not to mention James Develin at fullback and David Andrews down the middle. Last year, injuries and retirements left the Patriots with Marshall Newhouse, Ted Karras Jr., and Elandon Roberts filling out the line and fullback positions. Not to mention the tight end room was predominantly Matt LaCosse and Ben Watson.
Not exactly a star-studded run-blocking unit in front of him.
With that in mind, however, there were many reasons to be optimistic about Sony Michel as Spring 2020 turned into summer.
Enter, Cam Newton
For someone like Michel, who has been virtually non-existent in the passing game, having a quarterback like Tom Brady was setting yourself up for failure. They could get away with that when Michel was a rookie, but the league adjusted to that scheme. If Michel was on the field, they were going to run the football.
While Michel has only been targeted once in two games in 2020, there is a new level of confusion that defenses have to account for. That is whether the ball will be run by Michel, or by Cam Newton.
So for any deficiencies of the offensive line, albeit much improved, having Newton there should open things up for the former Georgia Bulldog.
The offensive line looks a lot better
Even though Marcus Cannon opted out, the Patriots offensive line was looking a lot better to start 2020. Isaiah Wynn looked promising when healthy last year, and poised to make a leap this season. Jermaine Eluemunor and Michael Onwenu gave them even more size in the trenches, as well as good fundamentals both as run-blockers and in pass protection––especially in the red area.
David Andrews––missed all of last season due to blood clots––announced he was playing this year. Perhaps the biggest plus of the entire offseason for the New England Patriots.
James Develin retired, but Jakob Johnson showed flashes of being a productive fullback in his limited action in 2019.
Everything was lining up similarly to 2018 for Michel. All he had to do was follow his blocks and take open holes in front of him.
So far, not so good for Sony Michel
The Patriots’ running backs did virtually nothing on the ground on Sunday. However, it wasn’t as if Michel was spectacular in Week 1 against Miami.
In 10 carries on Sept. 13, Michel rushed for just 37 yards. Yes, he scored a touchdown, but he was overall the weakest link in a dominant performance for Patriots runners.
Factor in his less than ideal Week 2 performance and Michel has tallied just 34 snaps this year. On those snaps, he’s carried the ball 17 times for 56 yards (3.3 per attempt) and one touchdown. His lone target as a receiver fell incomplete.
He looks hesitant to go full throttle, he doesn’t look like a confident runner, and he looks like he came into camp out of shape to begin with. The latter is likely due to recovering from an injury during the offseason. But the fact remains.
Once a running back with tremendous promise, Michel is starting to become an afterthought in this new era Patriots system. One that, two years ago, everyone thought would work to his benefit.
Time is running out for Sony Michel
The Patriots are likely two weeks away from bringing Damien Harris back from the injured reserve. As a result, the team will have five running backs on the roster. Through two weeks this season, coupled with the struggles of 2019, Sony Michel looks like the worst of the bunch.
If he can’t put him a strong performance in Week 3 against the Las Vegas Raiders, who’s to say the Patriots don’t look to move on from him? As we’ve seen in the past, Bill Belichick isn’t afraid to part ways with guys who have been instrumental to the team’s success. Guys like Lawyer Milloy, Tedy Bruschi, Randy Moss, and Tom Brady to name a few. At a position as volatile as running back, Sony Michel is easily the most expendable commodity.
The clock is ticking for the former first-round pick. It’s time for him to put up some numbers.
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