It’s nearly impossible to remember a Week 6 game with the feeling of importance as the upcoming Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots matchup. Kansas City has ridden its unique offense and the arm of young quarterback Patrick Mahomes to a dominating 5-0 start.
New England has won consecutive games in typical Patriot fashion, controlling the game against Miami and Indianapolis from the start. The two-time reigning AFC Champions are 3-2 and will be playing at home, with extra days to prepare for the Chiefs offense.
Old frienemies Bill Belichick and Andy Reid will meet once again, pitting their strategic minds against one another.
Despite their slow 1-2 start, New England’s offense has found a resurgence in the last two games with back to back 38-point outputs. The difference in their last two games compared to the first three? The legs of rookie running back Sony Michel.
In New England’s first three games, their rushing game was a borderline disaster. Combined, the team only had 293 yards on 74 carries. Not only was New England under 4.0 yards per carry, the Patriots had no rushing touchdowns and a long run of just 15 yards. It was obvious that too heavy a burden was being placed on a passing game that was lacking receiver talent at the time.
Michel struggled himself, picking up just 84 yards on 24 carries in two appearances. Since then, though, it’s been a different story.
Michel has scampered for 210 yards and 2 touchdowns on 43 carries over the last two weeks.
At Georgia, Michel was able to consistently run through contact, and use excellent second level vision to cut off of blocks. His ability to avoid tacklers in the open field and maintain his balance was a major weapon for the Bulldogs late in the season.
Michel has started to show those same traits at the pro level, now regularly breaking off chunk plays.
While flashes of excellent running came early on in the season, they have started to become more consistent. As a result, he has 9 carries of 9+ yards in the last two games, including both of the touchdown runs.
Somewhat surprising given the landscape of offenses in the NFL, 8 of those 9 runs have come from under center. Additionally, the majority of them have come from either 21 (2 running backs, 1 tight end) personnel, 12 personnel, or 22 personnel. This means New England has reestablished a power running game using fullbacks and tight ends, something many offenses currently lack.
When you add in the short area quickness of New England’s slot receivers and other running backs, the downfield ability of Josh Gordon, and the threat up the seam of Gronkowski, a power running game was really the only piece missing from a complete offensive attack.
Michel playing at a high level provides this aspect that other Patriot running backs cannot provide.
Looking ahead to the Kansas City matchup, New England is likely to be in a shootout. The offenses will need to firing on all cylinders, and this likely means a burden falls on Michel to carry the running game.
Based on his recent performances, he seems up the task.