By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Sony Michel is still just four games into his NFL career, which includes the preseason. Which he didn't have. But the Patriots rookie running back is starting to take noticeable steps forward.
A confident back with the physical skills to punish his opponents when given the opportunity, Michel is capitalizing on his chances and producing far better as the Patriots' primary back on the ground. After an inauspicious first two games against Jacksonville and Detroit, Michel has rumbled for 210 yards on 43 carries in his last two, both Patriots wins. He gained 98 yards on 18 carries against the Colts on Thursday night, adding a 12-yard reception.
Michel has done way more with his opportunities in the last two games, and a lot of credit for that is due to the blockers in front of him. But Michel is a decisive runner who, when at his best, finds openings quickly and attacks them with considerable burst. He's doing a hell of a lot better at that now than he did in Weeks 2-3, and the reason for that is pretty simple.
"It’s all about just executing better," said Michel after the Patriots' 38-24 win over the Colts. "Hopefully I can just keep progressing."
The blockers are certainly executing far better than they did in Michel's underwhelming first two games. With bigger holes to run through and more chances to impose his will on defenders at the second and third levels, Michel is starting to show off the power and explosion that made the Patriots' coaches so confident in him. Confident to the point that they've basically made Michel their lead runner with no backup plans in sight.
"I guess they have faith in me, but it’s not really about me," said Michel. "It’s about everybody going out there doing their job."
Michel gave a glimpse of the confidence that's building within him on his 34-yard touchdown, which was effectively the final nail for the Colts on Thursday night. Springing through to the second level off a wall of blockers and a perfect pull by Shaq Mason, Michel dropped Colts safety Matthias Farley to the turf with a well-placed stiff-arm. He then kept his balance and his feet in bounds to sail into the end zone and finish off the play.
"It was just wide open; anyone could have run through that hole," said Michel of his touchdown. "Just had to make one guy miss and then get in the end zone."
Michel also made his presence felt on an earlier touchdown drive, which put the Patriots up 14-0 early in the second quarter. First, Brady hit Michel for a 12-yard catch-and-run off a nifty fake to White that got pretty much the whole defense to bite. On the next snap, Michel took a handoff up the gut and finished the 14-yard run by bulldozing safety Clayton Geathers, who had to leave the game after that with a neck injury. The play flourished with even more good blocking - this time, it was a wham by Rob Gronkowski that sprung Michel - but the rookie also caught a hand from defensive tackle Al Woods, a tackle attempt that was as effective as the buzzing of flies. Michel breezed by Woods with ease.
Unfortunately, Michel couldn't punctuate that particular drive. After two failed attempts to break the plane, Tom Brady did it himself with a leap over the goal line. That was a clear area where Michel can improve, and that's what he's going to focus on in the coming days.
"You always want to get to the point where you can play and recognize how to get better," said Michel. "I will say we did a great job executing today as an offense. We probably left yards on the field once when we go back and look at film, but today was a great team win."
The Patriots' running game has certainly been a team effort, but Michel is starting to make more out of his opportunities. And it's still severely early in the rookie's career. But he's a confident kid and a powerful runner. His confidence should only continue to grow from here.
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 [email protected].ere.