Super Bowl week, 2019. With the New England Patriots reaching their third Super Bowl in four years, much of the discourse surrounding the big game has been focused on the greatest himself, Tom Brady. However, the Patriots running game has been key in Brady’s and Bill Belichick’s success this postseason.
Throughout the regular season, many questioned Brady’s lacklustre state of play and didn’t rate their playoff chances. Belichick has remedied this by taking the pressure off Brady and focusing on the rushing game. It is an old cliche that to be successful in the playoffs you need a stout defence and a strong running game. The Patriots are the epitome of this.
Eyebrows were raised when the Patriots drafted Sony Michel at 31 in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Concerns appeared to be justified after Michel struggled early in the season with injuries and a poor understanding of the playbook to blame for his slow start. Flash forward to January, when it really matters and the stakes are high, Michel ran all over the Los Angeles Chargers in the Divisional Round, accumulating 129 yards and three touchdowns. Against the Chiefs in Arrowhead a week later, Michel had an equally impressive outing with 113 yards and two touchdowns.
Paired with Michel in the Patriots backfield is James White. White is one of the most underrated running backs in the league. The epitome of the ‘third down back’ White is perhaps the best in the NFL at catching balls out of the backfield, he is often referred to as Tom Brady’s ‘safety blanket’. Just as Joe Montana had Roger Craig in those 80s Niners teams, Brady has White. Against the Chargers, White had 15 catches for 97 yards receiving along with two 3rd down conversions. Against the Chiefs, White had a solid 49 yards receiving.
All the praise regarding Brady reaching his ninth Super Bowl is completely justified. However, if the Patriots were to come out on top against the Rams, their running game of Sony Michel and James White must be a key part of their offence. If New England can establish their run game, it will keep the ‘Greatest Show on Turf V.2’ off the field, keep Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh, Dante Fowler Jr. and Michael Brockers away from Brady, as well as improving the Patriots play-action. In the games where Michel and White have performed well, Brady has also had his best games.
In an age of pass-first offence, Sony Michel and James White are reminding us just why running the ball is integral to success in January and beyond.