|Some thoughts on Wes Welker, Stevan Ridley and the specialists||09.11.12 at 12:46 am ET|
Four final things to wrap up your Monday:
1. If you toss out the 2009 regular-season finale against the Texans — a game where he left in the first quarter after shredding his knee — Wes Welker has never had a game like he had last Sunday against the Titans. Welker finished with three catches on five targets for a total of 14 yards in the 34-13 win over Tennessee. Other than the Houston game, it was his lowest output, yardage-wise, in a New England uniform. (Before that, you have to go all the way back to the 2006 season when he had one catch for 11 yards in a Dolphins loss to the Jets — his next-to-last game in a Miami uniform — to find such an inauspicious day.) While it’s easy to speculate that Welker’s diminished output had something to do with his tumultuous offseason and his contract situation, I wouldn’t read too much into a one-game dip. (Welker certainly isn’t too riled up.) The Patriots’ offense game is an egalitarian effort, one with the flexibility to operate based on week-to-week game plans. In that context, I wouldn’t get too worked up about Welker’s situation in the same way I wouldn’t get too worked up about what Stevan Ridley did. Both are interesting, but it’s entirely likely that they are not typical performances in this offense, as they’ll be utilized differently from week to week. If Welker finishes September with 20 or fewer catches, then it’s something that bears watching. But until then, you can chalk it up to a one-game spike. Nothing more, nothing less.
2. Watching Ridley run on Sunday against the Titans, I was struck by the fact that the Patriots have rarely had such a dynamic back. There have been the physical rumblers like Corey Dillon and (to a lesser extent) Antowain Smith. BenJarvus Green-Ellis was more of a workmanlike runner who was consistent in his ability to maintain control of the football and hit the magic four yards a carry mark. Ridley has something that Laurence Maroney had when the ex-Minnesota back wasn’t dancing two yards behind the line of scrimmage — an ability to shake off would-be tacklers with his speed and wiggle. Two other things that stuck out about Ridley’s performance: One, he had four carries that went for negative yards. These aren’t necessarily his fault — on further review, at least two of them were caused by breakdowns in blocking — but if you figure the negative carries into the mix, he came away with 17 carries for 125 yards, an even more impressive figure. And two, he clearly has an ability to break big runs. His 5.1 yards per carry average last year was a hint of that, and the fact that he accounted for five of the Patriots top 10 longest plays from scrimmage on Sunday serves as further confirmation.
3. We really should have had something in “10 Things….” about this, but Stephen Gostkowski and Zoltan Mesko had a good afternoon against the Titans. Tennessee’s average start was its own 18-yard line, with their best coming at the 21-yard line. Gostkowski put six of his seven kickoffs into the end zone, with three going as touchbacks. (He was also 4-for-4 on PATs and 2-for-2 on field goals, with successful conversions coming from 25 and 31 yards.) And while Mesko had what looked like a semi-pedestrian 38.5 average on the day, he dropped three of his four punts inside the 20 with only one touchback. When it comes to New England’s return game, the Titans, always one of the better teams when it comes to punt and kick coverage, did a good job of containing the New England returners. And while Devin McCourty and Matthew Slater each handled one kick return attempt for New England, it certainly doesn’t appear the Patriots are any closer to finding a full-time kick returner than they were at the start of the summer.
4. Interesting information here about the Cardinals ability to defend outside the numbers. According to Doug Clawson of ESPN Stats & Information, Arizona has made great gains when it comes to defending the perimeter over their last 10 games, dating back to last season. The completion percentage for opposing quarterbacks outside the numbers have dropped from 66 percent to 49 percent, while yards per attempt has already decreased from 9.5 to 5.6. Meanwhile, quarterback Tom Brady attempted 20 of his 31 passes outside the numbers during a victory at Tennessee in Week 1. He completed 16 of those 20 passes for 150 yards and a touchdown to Rob Gronkowski. Patrick Peterson will be patrolling a large chunk of the area outside the hash marks for Arizona, and it’s clear that Brandon Lloyd has all the respect in the world for him, calling him “one of the best players we’ve faced all season.” Should be an excellent matchup on the perimeter.
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