The New England Patriots’ opponent this weekend, the Buffalo Bills, could make life difficult for runner Sony Michel as he seeks to get going this year.
Second-year running back Sony Michel hasn’t looked great this season so far. He rarely has made the first tackler miss, his decision-making hasn’t been particularly crisp or efficient, and he’s not hitting holes with much conviction.
Worst of all, this is all happening with Michel perfectly healthy.
In the past when he was in college or even last season when he was a rookie with the Pats, Michel and his supporters could at least blame any deficiencies in his run game on injuries. Michel battled a number of setbacks to both of his knees, the engine pistons that fuel his whole machine, so he got a bit of a pass whenever he didn’t appear as dynamic as he was expected to be.
The problem for Michel, though, was that he often still appeared extremely dynamic despite those injuries, or in the immediate aftermath of coming back from them. He was a bit of a surprise revelation last year in New England, and he showed enough in a limited amount of time to earn coordinator Josh McDaniels’ trust and respect, to the point where the keys to offense were eventually turned over to Michel altogether come the playoffs.
2019 was supposed to be his encore. Some optimists thought he could even go so far as to potentially challenge Corey Dillon’s all-time franchise season rushing mark (1,635 yards in 2004).
Over three weeks into the season now, fans would be happy just to see Michel break off a 20-yard run. Heck, fans would be thrilled to see a 15-yard run from Michel at this point. There just hasn’t been that same explosive, home-run-threat ability he possessed at Georgia that made him a first-round pick for the Patriots back in 2018.
After averaging 4.5 yards per carry as a rookie and rumbling for 931 yards on just 209 attempts over 13 games, Michel is now averaging 2.4 yards per carry and has just 108 yards on 45 attempts over three games. Projected over the course of a full season, Michel is only on pace for 576 yards this year.
Hopefully he can get things checked into another gear soon. Especially as fall turns to winter and the weather gets worse, the Patriots are going to need to rely on him to once again power their offense.
A good place to start his turnaround would be right now in Week 4 against the undefeated Buffalo Bills, but that’s a difficult proposition in itself. The Bills have the No. 8 rushing defense in the league right now, and they’re holding their opponents to less than 90 rush yards per game.
Although they did allow the Giants’ Saquon Barkley to go for over 100 yards, the Bills D shut down the Bengals’ Joe Mixon and the Jets’ Le’Veon Bell, keeping both dangerous running backs well below 100 yards in their respective meetings.
Michel is good, but he’s not yet considered anywhere near the level of those three runners on a league-wide basis. He’ll also be playing on the road against the Bills in an unfriendly, loud, hostile environment.
New England might have some success running the ball Sunday afternoon against a talented Bills’ front-seven, but if they do, it’s much more likely to come courtesy of James White or Rex Burkhead if he’s healthy enough to play. Sony Michel could and should break out of this slump soon, but the odds are definitely against it happening versus Buffalo.