During the New England Patriots 34-13 win over the Tennessee Titans, star receiver Wes Welker was on the field for 64.2 percent of the team’s offensive snaps as opposed to 2011 when he was on the field for more than 89 percent of the team’s offensive snaps. Some have questioned what this means about Welker and the Patriots but this is not a surprising development.
In 2011, Welker was the only productive wide receiver the Patriots had. They brought back Deion Branch who gave the team a little production and signed free agent Chad Ochocinco who gave the team virtually no production. The Patriots would like to have used Julian Edelman more last season but Edelman spent much of the season helping out the team’s defensive secondary which had been decimated by injury.
Going into the 2012 season the Patriots were looking to improve the dire situation at that position. The team went out and signed free agent veterans Jabar Gaffney, Dont’a Stallworth, and Brandon Lloyd. Though Lloyd was the only one of the three to make the final roster, it was a clear sign of the team’s intentions.
Another issue is the change in passing game that occurred last season and continues this season. Due to the lack of production from the receivers, the Patriots began featuring tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez prominently in the passing game. This year the team kept four tight ends and five receivers instead of three tight ends and six receivers as was expected. This along with lengthy contract extensions to star tight ends Gronkowski and Hernandez showed that the Patriots were going to keep featuring the tight ends in a similar way in 2012.
In 2011 Welker had to play almost every play due to the lack of other options for Tom Brady. This year the team has another star receiver in Lloyd. With a healthy defensive secondary they also have Edelman back on offense and they are very confident about the abilities of their other young receiver Matthew Slater. All of this contributes to less playing time for Welker.
Certainly there are still questions surrounding Welker. This looks likely to be the Pro Bowler’s final season in New England as contract negotiations have not gone well. But that has nothing to do with his playing time Sunday against the Titans. This is just a situation where Welker is no longer the only go-to wide receiver on the Patriots. With more options and talent at wide receiver, the New England Patriots now have a wider variety of players to go to rather than just focusing on Welker on the outside.
Due to the offseason drama that surrounded Welker and his expiring contract there are always going to be questions. But this is just a situation where the team has more options so Welker is getting less playing time than last season. While many will worry about what this means for Welker, this is actually a good sign for the team as it shows that the offense is that much more dangerous in 2012.