FOXBORO, Mass. — Sony Michel did not take a significant step forward during the first half of his sophomore NFL season, but Bill Belichick has seen noticeable improvement from the young running back in one particular area.
The New England Patriots head coach said Friday he believes Michel’s field vision — identifying holes, reading blocks, etc. — has “improved a lot” this season.
“I think it’s more play to play,” Belichick said. “Look at the play, and we’ve gone over the reads. We’ve gone over how he read it. You want to try to understand what a player sees, and there’s a lot to see. Some guys focus more on one thing than another, but we’ve talked to him a lot about what his keys are, what his reads are, what the progression of the reads are.
“You don’t just read one guy. After you get past that guy, or after you deal with that particular blocker, that particular defender, then there’s somebody else to deal with. So we’ve talked a lot about that, and I think he’s improved a lot. But each play is a little bit different, and each key is a little bit different. … But I think he’s done a good job of improving on that. He’s worked really hard at it, and I think the results have been very positive.”
Despite that improvement, Michel is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry this season, down from 4.5 as a rookie and 4.7 during the 2018 playoffs. That average is tied for the second-worst among all qualified running backs.
Turnover on the offensive line and the losses of tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen and fullback James Develin haven’t helped matters, but Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears said this week Michel must be more cognizant of avoiding negative plays. He has lost yardage on 16 carries this season and been stopped for no gain on 22 others.
Michel acknowledged a need for improvement in that area Thursday when speaking with reporters.
“You never want to have negative plays on any play, especially running the ball,” Michel said. “That’s something we talk about. You just never want to give up any negative yardage. … At the end of the day, as a player, you should know when the play’s over with. Once you start running sideways, it gets to a point where you’ve just got to try to at least get back to the line of scrimmage and try to get positive yards.”
The Patriots’ offense as a whole ranks 23rd in rushing yards per game (95.3) and 30th in yards per carry (3.2).