Having played against Sony Michel in college when his Alabama Crimson Tide took on Michel's Georgia Bulldogs in October 2015, Rams defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson is quite familiar with the running back's punishing running style that has been on display in recent weeks.
"You've seen him running through people's faces," Robinson said Monday. "That matters in football, that wear and tear. Going in, you know, toting it, you run the ball 20 times a game, let's say 30 times a game, the d-linemen towards the end of the game, they start to think about those things. You have to have the will and mindset to want to stop something like that, and it takes that. Sony has that mind where he just, 'I can't stop trucking, I can't stop chugging,' almost like a Choo Choo train. Just, 'Choo! Choo!' He's chugging along, man."
There are many parts that make up the engine drive the Rams' offense, but Michel has been among the most prominent, especially over the last month.
He capped off the Rams' undefeated December run with 27 carries for 131 yards and one touchdown in the Rams' 30-23 playoff clinching win over the Vikings, the carries a career-high and the rushing yards a season-high. Michel's rushing yards were also two shy of matching his career-high.
Overall, he ran for a league-high 423 yards in the month of December.
Michel said he knew getting yards after contact was something that could be a defining trait "the moment I started playing running back," one that has also been developed through the techniques taught by Rams running backs coach assistant/head coach Thomas Brown, who was also his position coach at Georgia.
"Just being violent runners," Michel said. "When you're violent runners and you just keep your feet moving, you should be able to gain extra yards after contact. And that's kind of the goal as a running back, you know? The offensive line blocks, and you may gain five yards without being touched, but once somehow touch you, how many yards can after that? Whether it's making a guy miss, or trying to run through a guy."
Power and elusiveness have both been on display over the last four weeks.
On his longest run against the Vikings – a 16-yard gain – Michel cut back into a running late created by a block by wide receiver Van Jefferson, lowered his shoulder to bulldoze an oncoming defender while also slipping out of a linebacker's grasp, then kept his legs churning to gain another 10 yards after contact. A week earlier against the Seahawks, he worked the left edge and bounced to the outside, then used a stiff arm to ward off a would-be tackle and gain extra yards on a 39-yard carry that marked the Rams' longest rushing attempt this season.
"He's really sturdy," Rams head coach Sean McVay said Monday. "I mean he's just a physical, strong – he's got great contact balance. He's got all those things that are built to – he's built like a running back should be when you look at it. And he is just really tough. He's got great ball security too throughout those."
According to Michel, that strength doesn't necessarily come from sensing when defensive linemen are getting fatigued as the game goes on due to his running style, but the energy of the offensive line and the Rams' running back room.
"(The offensive line) coming back to the huddle, like, 'Alright, let's get it,' or, 'We got this play,' or after a play, them picking me up and clapping me up, letting me know how successful (it was), I kind of feed off the offensive line's energy knowing that, 'Man, these guys are ready to roll,'" Michel said.
With Darrell Henderson Jr. being placed on Injured Reserve, the Rams will be counting on Michel to continue his strong rushing streak. Factor into Cam Akers having the chance to play this week, and it creates intriguing possibilities for Los Angeles' run game.
"Really been pleased with him," McVay said of Michel. "You can add Cam Akers to the mix and he's anywhere close to what we know he's capable of being, that's really exciting."