Sony Michel's Usage in Week 5 Showed a Promising Change for the Second-Year Back
During the New England Patriots' Week 5 win over the Washington Redskins, the Patriots did something they hadn't done leading into their first game of October - they ran the ball effectively. Yes, it was against one of the worst rushing defenses in the NFL. But how they managed to find success also had to do with their personnel usage, which might foreshadow how they will go about using their backfield pieces as early as Thursday night against the New York Giants.
The biggest change in their backfield usage came from second-year running back Sony Michel, who was used as much more than a ball carrier during the 33-7 victory.
In the 38 total snaps Michel had against the Redskins, 16 of them were carries and 18 were passing routes run. As Dave Archibald from Inside The Pylon mentions, that's the first time in Michel's career that he has received a carry on less than half of his snaps in a single game.
Why is that significant? Well, one of the issues surrounding New England's backfield this season has been the predictability of their backfield personnel. When Michel is in the game, teams tend to go with base defenses more often than not, which leads to more bodies to block for the offensive line and the fullback and a much lower success rate for run plays.
The Patriots relied on Rex Burkhead against the New York Jets in Week 3 as the primary ball handler (he had 11 carries and six catches) out of the backfield because of his versatility as a runner and pass-catcher, which makes a run/pass play much harder to predict for opposing defenses. New England has also started implementing play-action when Michel is in the game , which has led to less predictability and a lot of success in the passing game when Brady fakes a handoff.
While the team has had success doing these aforementioned things, the morphing of the offense, specifically with how Michel is used, can't stop there. And it hasn't, which was evident against Washington this past week.
Having Michel more involved in every facet of the offense has been very effective for the Patriots this season. This seems like an obvious narrative considering how unpredictable their offense is when a single RB becomes involved in the running and passing game. But what's important to note is how Michel is evolving his game to help an offense that has struggled to gain yards on the ground. This Patriots team can no longer advertise they are running the ball and simultaneously dominate because of strong offensive line play like they did last season. Injuries have changed what the 2019 offense can do, which leads to a little less predictability and a lot more creativity.
Michel's career-high three receptions last Sunday marks a change in philosophy for how New England may attempt to cover up their offensive line woes. The second-year back should be used more often in passing situations, which will change the defensive packages implemented when he is on the field. This has and will continue to create more opportunistic running plays, and ultimately more success for the Patriots offense.