Among many positive takeaways from the New England Patriots' 33-3 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday is one outlier - Sony Michel's performance.
Michel rushed 15 times for 14 yards with no touchdowns, averaging 0.9 yards per carry on a night that didn't seem so difficult to gain yards for the remainder of the backfield. Rex Burkhead managed 44 yards on eight carries, and James White had 26 yards on four carries. Michel was also not targeted in the passing game, while Burkhead and White combined for 10 receptions and 97 yards.
It seemed like a very odd night for a second-year back that was expected to take a big step forward in 2019 and flashed that in his lone preseason debut this summer.
Does this mean we should be worried going forward?
Let's look at the circumstances first.
Pittsburgh always has a stout defensive line, which is no different this year. Tack on first-round pick Devin Bush who already looks like a stud at middle linebacker and Mark Barron who loves playing in the box and near the line of scrimmage, and their defense has a bunch of run-stuffing, tackling machines at the point of attack.
White and Burkhead typically get more favorable matchups when running the ball, as opposing teams know they could wind up catching a pass out of the backfield instead of receiving a handoff, which causes defenses to be a little more hesitant to put players near the the LOS.
To simplify this - when Michel is in the game there are more linebackers and stacked boxes. When White or Burkhead are in the game there are more nickel/dime packages and less men in the box.
Until Michel becomes more prominent in the passing game, it will be more of the same going forward. His performance in the season-opener was unfortunately (for him) a product of the circumstances, which forced New England to pass the ball against a Steelers team that wanted to stop the run at all costs.
Michel's outlook going forward shouldn't be hampered by what he did in the regular season, however. With some favorable matchups over the next month, Michel will bounce back quickly and allow the Patriots to run the ball like they had over the back stretch of last season.
Having Antonio Brown on the team may opt Josh McDaniels to call for some passing plays more frequently. But he knows where the team's dominance lies, which is in its ability to churn the clock, run the ball effectively and play great defense in the process.