It’s no secret the New England Patriots have experienced difficulty moving the ball on the ground through the first half of the 2019 season.
The aspect of New England’s offense that led them to a Super Bowl last year has fallen behind this season. Part of that is due to a battered offensive line, but it also has to do with the Patriots’ predictability with primary back Sony Michel on the field.
On most snaps where Michel is deployed, the play is usually a run or a play-action pass. And without much success running the ball from Michel, opponents haven’t needed to respect the run as much on play-action looks downfield.
Last week against Cleveland, a team ranking near the bottom of the league in run defense, Michel was only able to gallop for 74 total yards and no touchdowns. The week before, Michel had the good fortune of three short touchdown runs to boost his score despite only 34 all-purpose yards.
How will he fare this week against a Ravens team that ranks third in the NFL allowing just 84 rushing yards per game this year?
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Sony Michel Matchup vs Baltimore
The most troubling stat for Sony Michel this season is his decline in yards per carry. As a rookie, he averaged 4.5 yards per carry, one of the top marks in the league, and it showed the way he blasted through the line of scrimmage.
This season, he is down over a full yard to 3.3 per carry and there’s a clear difference in his rushing style this season. Instead of blasting through the line like last year, Michel has taken more carries laterally instead of using his physicality to burst past defenders at the line. The approach is somewhere between patient and skittish, though that’s a product of his vision improving at the line.
But the Patriots could use more out of Michel than what he is providing and it could be just the second-half surge the back himself needs to build his confidence. Though the odds are against him given Baltimore’s stout rushing defense, Michel and the Patriots know he must produce more out of the backfield.
Should You Start Michel vs Ravens?
It’s been tough to judge what kind of production the Patriots will get out of Michel this year. Sometimes, he’ll rack up big yardage but nothing in the red zone. While other times, like against the Jets, he’ll score three touchdowns on just 42 rushing yards.
That’s been the story of his season. Productive, but in inconsistent spurts. In a game between two strong rushing defenses, the natural instinct is to bench Michel this week.
Looking at how the Patriots game-planned for the Ravens in their last meeting, three years hence, New England employed a passing attack that saw Tom Brady climb over 400 yards with three touchdowns. As for running the ball, the Patriots had around 100 yards total.
But Baltimore’s secondary is thoroughly improved with the likes of Earl Thomas and Marcus Peters. New England is going to have to get creative to win this one, and that could require a big game from Michel.
You’d be taking a chance, but this week really could be the breakout game Michel has been looking to have.