One of the top stories about the New England Patriots in recent weeks is the lack of snaps for four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Wes Welker. After an offseason of failed contract negotiations, the star receiver has seen his playing time drop significantly through the first two weeks of the season. But for the Patriots to defeat the Baltimore Ravens Sunday night, they’ll need a bigger impact from Tom Brady’s favorite target.
Despite the fact that head coach Bill Belichick has used Welker much less this season, that hasn’t made him any less important to Brady. After his significant decrease of snaps in week one in which Welker recorded just three catches for 14 yards, Welker was dropped from the starting lineup in week two. He went on to lead the team with five catches for 95 yards. But there’s a greater reason why Welker should be more of a focus now.
The Patriots tight end focused passing attack suffered a devastating blow in week two when Aaron Hernandez went down with an injury that will keep him out for at least a few weeks. While the other star tight end Rob Gronkowski will still get a fair share of the passes, Brady will have to look for his wide receivers more.
Another problem for the Patriots this week is the defense they are going against. Despite the fact that the Ravens are missing Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs, they still have a future hall of famer in Ray Lewis. With Hernandez’s injury, Lewis’ job has become significantly easier as he will only have Gronkowski as a dangerous tight end.
The Patriots rushing attack is primarily Stevan Ridley who is just in his second year. To make matters worse, the Patriots have been losing offensive linemen since the beginning of the offseason and will have to protect against star defensive linemen Pernell McPhee and Haloti Ngata. In order for the Patriots to win this game, they’ll have to have a strong passing attack and that means good performances by their receivers.
Because the Patriots decided to go with a young corps of receivers this year, there is not much experience. Even with the re-signing of Deion Branch this week, the two most trusted receivers are undoubtedly Welker and Brandon Lloyd. And while young receivers Julian Edleman and Matthew Slater have shown themselves to be capable of playing in the NFL, this week they’re going against a tough defensive secondary which includes safeties Bernard Pollard and future hall of famer Ed Reed.
After a tough loss in week two to the Arizona Cardinals, the Patriots need a bounce back win Sunday night. Despite early struggles, the Ravens defense is consistently one of the NFL’s best and no less is expected Sunday night. Because of this and the loss of a key target in Hernandez, the Patriots need their best and most reliable receivers on the field. This includes Welker. If the young Edleman plays much more than Welker Sunday night, it could be a long game and a tough 1-2 start to a season which has been described as Super Bowl or bust.