The Patriots offense has put up some other-worldly numbers during the first month of the season. Tom Brady is well ahead of the pack in passing yards and New England is compiling yards and points in bunches. Wes Welker has been the recipient of most of Brady's passes and he leads the league by a healthy margin with 40 receptions for 616 yards.
But that production hasn't stopped some people from questioning the Patriots approach. In the last two games, not coincidentally games that Aaron Hernandez missed with a knee injury, Brady has leaned on Welker almost exclusively. In the loss at Buffalo, Welker was targeted 20 times in Brady's 45 attempts while that percentage rose a week later in Oakland when the wideout was the intended receiver on 14 of 30 passes. Aside from Rob Gronkowski's seven catches against the Bills, no Patriots had more than three in either game.
Despite all that production, it seems there's been a reliance on Welker in order the make the passing game go. So, the logical question from the PFW boys this week is simple:
Are the Patriots becoming too one-dimensional in the passing game?
Andy Hart says yes ...
Watching Welker's start to the 2011 season has been a lot of fun. He's put up crazy numbers and is on pace for the greatest receiving season in the history of the NFL in terms of both yards and receptions. It makes for great fantasy football stats and fun stuff for Patriots fans to watch in the regular season. But that doesn't mean it's good for the team in the long run.
Beyond simply catching 40 passes through four games, Welker has been on the receiving end of more than half of Tom Brady's completions in each of the last two weeks. With Aaron Hernandez hurt, and Rob Gronkowski used more as a blocker, only one other Patriot had even two catches in last week's win in Oakland. That's as one-dimensional as the Patriots passing attack has ever been.
New England's passing game is at its best when the production is spread out. The offense should never run through a single player, other than Brady. Welker's statistics may be fun, but for the long-term success of the team it's imperative that another receiver - I'm talking to you Deion Branch, Chad Ochocinco and Taylor Price - becomes a reliable, consistent contributor to the offense. I have faith that the tight ends will fill their roles, but the other receivers need to step up.
If not, sooner or later we'll all be talking about how Brady is "forcing" the ball to Welker just like he was accused of doing with Randy Moss. Hopefully it won't get to that point and things will evolve naturally, but right now I think the Patriots are too dependent on Welker and I don't believe he can maintain this type of production, or good health, if it continues.
Paul Perillo says no ...
I've never been overly concerned with who catches the ball or scores the touchdowns, as long as the ball is moving and the points are scored. Whether Welker winds up breaking records or sees his production fall off dramatically won't matter to me as long as the Patriots offense continues to be among the highest scoring units in the league.
If teams want to load up on Welker and force Tom Brady to find other alternatives, I believe he will. He always has. The tight ends have been a big part of the offense during the first month, and when Aaron Hernandez returns that production figures to increase. Also, Deion Branch was quiet the last two games but he remains a viable option each and every week. No one was complaining about his production in the first two weeks.
Would it be great to see Chad Ochocinco and/or Taylor Price emerge as additional weapons? Of course, but it's not necessary in order for this offense to succeed. Brady has gotten by with a lot less than just Welker in the past, and given the performance the wideout has offered thus far, there's no reason to believe even a one-dimensional passing attack will be stymied any time soon.
Now it's the fans turn to cast their vote in this week's Samsonite Make Your Case poll. Is the passing game too one-dimensional?