Patriots-Jets Film Review: How Sony Michel’s Improvement Generated Big Plays

New England Patriots rookie running back Sony Michel doesn’t necessarily jump off the screen in any one regard, but that’s not a shot at the 2018 first-round pick.

He doesn’t have Dion Lewis’ agility, James White’s quick-twitch jump cuts, Ezekiel Elliott’s power or the breakaway speed of a smaller back like Matt Breida or Phillip Lindsay. Instead, he uses a combination of traits to rip off big gains and does the little things needed to pick up valuable extra yards.

“He’s a strong runner,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said Monday. “He’s got really good lower-body strength and he does a job as you said of pushing the pile, of grinding out another yard or two after contact. He has good balance. He also, similarly to what we just were saying about (Cordarrelle Patterson), he has a little lower center of gravity, has a little thicker lower body — CP’s a little more linear.

“But Sony’s got very good balance, good lower body leg strength and he’s a strong, strong guy that can make yards against, I would say, bigger tacklers. You even see some of the defensive linemen and linebackers that tackle him and he’s a lot of times able to push forward for an extra yard or two.”

Michel carried the ball 21 times for 133 yards with a touchdown Sunday in the Patriots’ 27-13 win over the New York Jets. He added 12 more yards on two catches.

One of Michel’s most impressive runs came on the first play of the third quarter.

Michel had great blocking on the play.

Left guard Joe Thuney, center David Andrews, fullback James Develin, right guard Shaq Mason and right tackle Marcus Cannon walled off the Jets’ defensive line, while tight end Rob Gronkowski, left tackle Trent Brown and wide receiver Julian Edelman won their 1-on-1 blocks.

Michel still had to make one defender, safety Jamal Adams, miss.

So, Michel showed patience and quickly stopped to make Adams choose a side.

Adams went to Michel’s right, so the back cut left and burst through the gap between Gronkowski and Brown.

Michel finished off the run by breaking an arm tackle at the 35-yard line.

Cornerback Darryl Roberts initiated contact with Michel near the 50-yard line.

But Michel didn’t go down until he got to the 44-yard line. That’s a 31-yard carry.

The Patriots got a scare when Michel missed a series after being folded backward on a carry for no gain.

But he returned, and on his first play back, Michel ripped off a 33-yard run.

Michel was patient after the handoff to let his blockers create space and went untouched down the field.

He picked up extra yards at the end of the play by briefly juking Roberts near the Patriots’ 40-yard line.

He gained an extra 13 yards by going down at the Jets’ 47-yard line.

Michel averaged 3.19 yards after contact Sunday, ranking seventh among 19 qualified running backs, according to Pro Football Focus. He entered the game averaging just 2.45 yards after contact, ranking 44th among 55 running backs. Michel also forced six missed tackles, a new season-high for the rookie.

So, Michel improved his ability to run through and around tackles Sunday. And the fact that he picked up 67 of his 133 yards after contact shows it wasn’t just good blocking that propelled him to such a big game.

Michel very easily could still register a 1,000-yard season if he stays healthy. He’s currently on pace for 952 yards. He has to average 83 yards per game to get over 1,000.

Here are some other notes from our film review:

— Linebacker Kyle Van Noy was a playmaker with a 2-yard tackle for loss, batted pass at the line of scrimmage and three hurries, including a quarterback hit that caused an incompletion.

— The Patriots’ snap counts were a little wonky with only Van Noy, cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty, defensive end Trey Flowers and safeties Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty playing all or most snaps. The rest of the Patriots defense, including linebacker Dont’a Hightower, rotated. Hightower is usually part of that first group. He did, however, have a good game, bringing pressure on four of nine pass-rush snaps.

— Gilmore and Flowers returned to form after down games against the Titans in Week 10.

— The athleticism of guards Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney stood out on multiple pull blocks. There’s a lot of value in having interior offensive linemen who are so fast they can move out to a defender before the ball-carrier.

“Certainly Shaq and Joe both do a real good job of that,” Belichick said Monday. “They both run well and have good balance and make good decisions. There’s a lot of tough decisions that those guys have to make, whether to go in front of or behind a guy or how early or soon to leave on a screen. Or on pulls whether to turn up or read around or sometimes there’s nobody in the hole and you have to make a decision as to whether to block somebody and keep going, or just pry it open and try to block somebody. Or sometimes there’s two guys there and you have to decide which one.

“They do a good job of just making those good decisions on the run. The hardest thing about pulling really is to hit a target while you’re moving and hit a moving target, which a lot of times, they’re pulling on linebackers, which those guys move a lot more then the defensive linemen do, like for example, a trap block would be. So being able to hit on the move and deliver a blow and hit a moving target that’s an athletic guy like we saw yesterday, those guys do a good job of that and that’s not really an easy assignment.”

— A thumb injury seemed to affect quarterback Tom Brady’s accuracy for two or three series, but it cleared up by the end of the game. Brady made some impressive throws under pressure, including his 34-yard touchdown pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski.

— Gronkowski wasn’t quite as dominant as we expected him to be, but he still looked more like his old self in Week 12 than he really has since at least Week 6.

Thumbnail photo via Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports Images

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