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Super Bowl 53 – The Battle of the Backs

The NFL regular and postseason have flown by in emphatic fashion, as per usual. We are now one day removed from Super Bowl LIII, which will feature the evergreen New England Patriots take on the fresh-faced Los Angeles Rams in Atlanta. In a battle of experience versus youth, for me the running game will be one of the most important aspects of the matchup. This is even more significant given that both starting running backs are former Georgia Bulldogs. The stage is set, but who out of Sony Michel and Todd Gurley will steal the show? 

Overshadowed Enigma

Sony Michel’s collegiate career was largely overshadowed by the superstar that is Todd Gurley, as well as Cleveland’s Nick Chubb. In the 2014 season, Gurley was in his Junior Year, whilst Michel was a freshman. That season, Michel garnered little snaps, however, he contributed 410 yards and 5 touchdowns on 64 rushing attempts. After Gurley’s exit to the NFL at the conclusion of his Junior year, Michel then became the backup to the aforementioned Chubb. Regardless, he amassed extensive playing time despite serving as a backup. In the 2015 and 2016 season, he accumulated 2,001 yards and 12 touchdowns collectively. 

In 2017, Sony Michel stole the show, in spite of remaining a backup. He participated in all 14 games. With the added opportunities, he notched 1,227 yards and 16 touchdowns on 156 attempts. He also proved to be a useful outlet in the pass game, catching 9 throws for 96 yards and 1 touchdown. Michel capped off a brilliant year by capturing the MVP Award in the Rose Bowl. In that game, he rushed for 181 yards and 3 touchdowns, 1 of which was the “walk-off” winner for the Bulldogs in their first ever College Football Playoff game. He also caught 4 passes as he added a fourth touchdown to his résumé. 

The New England Patriots selected Sony Michel 31st overall in the following year. He concluded his rookie season in fairly average fashion, with many Patriot fans feeling content but not exactly impressed by his offerings. His 931 rushing yards ranked fourth behind Chubb (996), Lindsay (1,037) and Barkley (1,307). In addition, he only added 6 rushing touchdowns. That said, he has completely transcended his game in the postseason. Thus far, he has produced 242 yards on 53 carries, which leads the league in the postseason. Furthermore, his tally of 5 rushing touchdowns broke an NFL record among rookies in the playoffs. This, incidentally, is as much touchdowns as the Rams have accumulated throughout the postseason as a team. 

Los Angeles’ Light 

Todd Gurley grabbed headlines both on and off the field at the University of Georgia. In his two and a half year career, Gurley compiled 3,285 yards and 36 TD’s on 510 carries, averaging 6.4 yards per attempt. He was also exquisite in the pass game, capturing 615 yards and 6 touchdowns on just 65 receptions. His Junior Year was abruptly interrupted on October 9, 2014, when he was indefinitely suspended from the school for receiving $3,000 over two years for the selling of autographed memorabilia. This being something that is thoroughly frowned upon in the NCAA. He then tore his ACL upon his return to the team which saw the end of his career as a Bulldog, as he subsequently elected to declare his eligibility for the 2015 NFL Draft. 

The Los Angeles Rams selected Todd Gurley with the 10th overall pick in the draft. Since the inception of his career in the NFL, he has consistently performed among the top running backs in the league. After solid seasons in 2015 and 2016, Gurley truly became a domineering force in the league by 2017. That year, he manufactured 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns on 279 carries. Moreover, he added 788 yards and 6 touchdowns on 64 catches. As a result of his excellent displays he was named the AP Offensive Player of the Year. 

This season has been more of the same for the Rams’ franchise running back. He finished third in rushing yards (1251), First in rushing touchdowns (17) and second in yards per game (89.4). His performances were absolutely integral to the success of the Rams this year. On the other hand, his production has dropped off in the postseason. He contributed a solid 115 yards and 1 touchdown in the Divisional round against the Cowboys. However, he struggled immensely against the Saints where he was handed just 4 rushes. With those he rushed for 10 yards and a touchdown. 

So, Who Will Prevail Come Sunday? 

The battle of the backs will be tantalising to say the least. But for me, Sony Michel will prevail victorious. His explosiveness and athleticism are peaking right now, whilst he still looks incredibly healthy. Gurley, on the other hand, appeared to be nursing an injury in the Rams’ bout with the Saints two weeks ago. 

Evidently, both teams have had time to recover, therefore Gurley simply shouldn’t be counted out. He’s fantastic in both getting to the edge and serving as a straight/narrow back. Additionally, he can be relied on as a viable option in the passing game. Overall however, I feel that the Rams will have to rely too heavily on Gurley and/or C.J. Anderson who stepped up to the mark immaculately last week against the previously alluded to, New Orleans Saints. Thus, leaving them somewhat one-dimensional in order to prevent Jared Goff from conceding too many mistakes. 

Another reason I feel the Patriots will be unstoppable in the run game is because of another back, this being James White. He has consistently risen to the occasion in the big games, having served as the hero of Super Bowl LI. Most importantly, with the tandem of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, play-calling will be exceptionally difficult to figure out, meaning the opposing defence will be stretched thin as they must prepare to defend against both the run and pass with elusive backs like Michel and White providing a dual-threat. 

In the Super Bowl press conferences that took place earlier this week, Gurley somewhat criticised Michel. He stated: “I remember when he first came in, he couldn’t run and catch. I had to teach him how to do all that stuff.” Adding: “Hopefully everything I taught him, he doesn’t do it and he just plays like he used to play before I taught him everything.” That, for me, is the final nail in the coffin. Never, on any occasion, should one undermine the Patriots or their players because it always comes back to haunt you. 

Who do you think will emerge victorious in Atlanta on Sunday? Let us know over on Twitter – @NinetynineYards & @red_scox.

Image Credits – Daily Star.

Statistics Courtesy Of – Gracenote Sports.

Article written by:

I started following the game in 2014, which is when I first witnessed Big Ben Roethlisberger. Since then I’ve been a passionate Pittsburgh Steelers fan.

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