When the New England Patriots selected Georgia running back Sony Michel with the 31st pick of this year’s draft, they invested in a player that came with plenty of promise and upside but his fair share of questions as well — mostly related to the position he plays. Why pick a running back in the first round? Especially one with a lengthy injury history? Eight games into his rookie campaign, however, Michel has silenced most of his critics.
The 23-year old is now an integral member of the Patriots’ offense. Yesterday’s game against the New York Jets is further proof of that. No other skill position player touched the football as often or gained as many yards as Michel: he carried the ball 21 times for 133 yards and a touchdown and also had a pair of receptions for a combined 10 yards. Along the way, he also became the fastest Patriots rookie ever to register three 100-yard games.
“Sony has done a great job in the run game,” quarterback Tom Brady said about Michel’s performance during his postgame press conference. “Anytime you can run the ball like we did [...] it just helps a lot of things.” After a lackluster performance in the game before last week’s bye, establishing the run was one of the Patriots’ main goals versus New York and they were able to accomplish it with Michel as their lead back.
Being able to run the football is about more than just the statistics, though, as Michel pointed out following the best performance of his young career: it’s also about sending a message. “That’s just us being able to play Patriot football,” he told reporters. “We want to be physical. When you’re physical, you can run the ball, you can throw the ball. It’s almost like you control the line of scrimmage and do what you want to do.”
The Patriots’ desire to play physically-imposing football was on full display against the Jets: New England dominated in the trenches en route to 216 rushing yards (not counting kneel-downs) — easily a season-high for the team and the 14th best rushing performance in the league so far this season. And while the opponent kept the game close in the first half, it was overwhelmed in the second.
“It’s all about trying to be consistent at being physical week in and week out, game after game,” Michel said after his team’s 27-13 victory. If New England wants to continue playing this brand of smash mouth football into December and beyond, the rookie will continue seeing regular snaps as one of the team’s most important and valuable offensive players. And if yesterday is any indication, he appears to be ready for it.