By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Is Sony Michel finally becoming more of a weapon in the passing game, as we've patiently waited to see since he first took the field as a Patriot?
Believe it or not, Michel actually got 15 targets in the 2018 regular season. In retrospect, it felt like zero. Before last Sunday at the Washington Redskins, Michel had seen two targets in his previous nine regular season games combined.
In D.C., Tom Brady targeted him three times and he caught all of them for 32 yards, passing the eye test in the process. So is Michel ready to take another step forward as a receiver?
You can't expect him to make any declarations himself. Michel is a humble guy - aggressively so, always willing to credit his teammates and coaches for putting him in position to succeed. I should have known he wasn't exactly going to brag about seeing his first target of the season against the Jets ("I mean, it wasn't completed, so it is what it is") or seeing more passing game opportunities in his future ("I don’t know - If the coach calls my number to run those kinds of plays and throw me the ball, I’ll be ready.")
He did look ready against the Redskins. Even after making his presence felt as a pass-catcher early in the Patriots' 33-7 win, Michel wasn't going to get ahead of himself.
"It was good just to be able to make positive plays, and that’s what it’s all about," Michel said. "I’m just excited that I’m able to help the team in any way."
That's the thing, though. Positive plays had been hard to come by for the second-year pro out of Georgia, as a runner or as a receiver. But he had by far his best performance of the season on the ground, and more importantly he had easily the most productive game of his career as a pass-catcher.
The most encouraging catch for Michel came on the Patriots' second play from scrimmage, when Brady faced a second-and-10 from the 16-yard line. Brady hit Michel for a quick swing pass and he made Redskins defensive end Ryan Kerrigan miss, turning a potential no-gain into 11 yards.
Michel also picked up 15 yards on a catch over the middle of the field. He impressively sensed the space that was available to him and slipped around Kerrigan to get open for Brady.
The running back's performance in the passing game surprised many who don't see him at work every day. It wasn't as surprising for his teammates.
"I mean, he does it all the time in practice," said James White when asked about Michel's receiving skills. "He may not have had that many opportunities in games previously, but he's catching the ball confidently, making plays with it in his hands. He's always trying to improve just like the rest of us in this locker room."
Michel clearly has the potential to create mismatches against less shifty defenders like Kerrigan. Can he have the same kind of production on a short week against Giants edge defenders like Markus Golden or Oshane Ximines?
Last Sunday's performance at least gave Michel and the Patriots something to build on moving forward. And he showed in his limited targets the kind of potential he has catching the ball in space.
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].