FOXBORO -- Sony Michel was coming off of his second-career 100-yard game. He'd just helped his team beat the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs. And yet, he was relatively dour in his postgame back-and-forth with reporters.
"Everything was the o-line," he said. "There was holes. It's probably hard from you guys' perspective, but there was holes down there.
"Yes, we made some plays. But I think we left yards out there. There were some that I thought could've been even bigger plays, but that's football."
Michel's production has surged of late, as has his workload. He carried 24 times against the Chiefs for 106 yards. Against the Colts he carried 18 times for 98 yards and caught a pass for 12. Against the Dolphins, he had 25 attempts for 112 yards.
Still, there's clearly room for improvement. Michel will tell you that. So will Bill Belichick.
"Yeah, definitely," Belichick answered when asked if he concurred with Michel's postgame comments. "I would agree with that, absolutely. Yeah, I agree with that."
Is the missed yardage Michel has accrued a result of his missing time in training camp and preseason?
"No, I think it’s part of playing at a high level of competition against good players with good players," Belichick said. "All players get better when they come into this league after two or three years. I don’t care how good they are coming in. When you play at a higher level with higher competition, I mean, it forces you to get better. If you work hard, it forces you to get better, and basically they all do."
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One area where Michel could boost his output would be by limiting some of his stuffed runs. He had nine runs go for two yards or fewer against the Chiefs. He had nine more against the Colts, with one being negated by a Patriots holding penalty. He had 11 more against the Dolphins, and six more runs for three yards.
In all, 41 of Michel's 91 attempts (45 percent) have gone for two yards or fewer. That's partly on the offensive line as well, but Michel focused internally when asked how he'd try to take his game to another level.
"Watch the film," Michel said, "correct it, criticize yourself. See what you could've done different and apply it in practice."
Given where the Patriots stand with their running back depth -- there are three backs on the roster between Michel (37 snaps versus Kansas City), James White (33) and Kenjon Barner (five) -- Michel will continue to be relied upon in the Patriots offense.
He's a critical piece to the operation, and though he has not been a factor in the passing game lately (two targets in his last three games), he has opened things up for the Patriots through the air via the threat he poses on play-action.
The question now is not whether he'll improve or not. That seems likely given Belichick's commentary, and Michel shows flashes when it appears as though he's already made significant strides.
The question now is how he'll hold up moving forward. With 91 carries through five games (18.2 per game), he's currently on pace to see more carries (272) than he ever saw at Georgia if he plays all 10 remaining regular-season contests.
Michel's knee is still limiting him in practice, and there doesn't appear to be any reinforcements coming New England's way as far as between-the-tackle runners go. Jeremy Hill is done for the year on injured reserve, and Rex Burkhead is on IR as well but could return later this season.
For now, Michel is taking a day-to-day approach with his health and maintenance, looking at how he can get himself to feel as fresh as possible from practice to practice, not necessarily how he can get himself to feel as fresh as possible for the end of the season.
As long as he's good to go, it looks like the Patriots will continue to ride him, in part because they don't have many other options. He'll continue to see carries, and he'll hope to continue to see incremental improvement as he goes. The same goes for his head coach.
"He’s got a long way to go," Belichick said. "He runs hard, he’s tough, so we’ll see."
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