By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots are 4-0 and currently sit all alone atop the AFC East but the rumblings continue as many believe that this team as currently constructed is not a top contender for the AFC.
The early struggles of the offense have been well documented as the rookie wide receivers struggled to get themselves in positions to succeed and to hold onto the football. Some even questioned if Brady was still capable of leading this offense going forward at a high level.
While Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce have had their issues and are still far from a polished product on the field, their overall play has improved and gets better week by week and now some optimism is in order for the trio. And as they improve, the Patriots are still at this point of the season undefeated.
However, one overlooked part of the equation has been the overall outstanding play of wide receiver Julian Edelman who is having a career year thus far for the Patriots. Edelman‚Äôs best season statistically was his rookie campaign in 2009 when he hauled in 37 passes for 359 yards and 1 TD.
Julian Edelman has gotten great chemistry with Tom Brady yhis season.
(USA TODAY Images)
But through the first four games of 2013, he appears poised to shatter those marks. Edelman has caught 34 passes for 319 yards and 2 TDs thus far. But far from a numbers game, Edelman has provided QB Tom Brady a reliable tough target that isn‚Äôt afraid to make the tough catches over the middle and always has the capability to break the big play.
With Danny Amendola, Rob Gronkowski and Shane Vereen missing from the equation, Edelman has really stepped up and in a big way for this Patriots offense. His play has allowed both Thompkins and Dobson to progress and the results are getting better by the week.
In the first two weeks of the season, Brady‚Äôs numbers were 48-91 for 473 yards, 3 touchdowns and 1 interception for a QB rating of 74.1 while averaging only 5.19 yards per pass.
Contrast this to the past two weeks; Brady‚Äôs numbers are 45-67 for 541 yards, 4 touchdowns against 1 interception for an average of 8.07 yards per attempt and a QB rating of 105.3. It‚Äôs no coincidence that Edelman and Thompkins each had big nights against the Atlanta Falcons as the offense begins to get untracked and in tune with Brady.
Edelman had a huge second half getting all team high 7 catches for 118 yards after halftime as he continuously tortured Robert McClain for big plays. And none was bigger than his 44 yard catch and run on a third and eight that set up Brady‚Äôs touchdown pass to Thompkins on the next snap. His play, toughness and consistency have been tremendous bright spots for the team thus far this season.
Brady passed for 316 yards on Sunday night and 77 percent of those came from the duo of Edelman and Thompkins. This summer, we highlighted Edelman as a player whose time had come and needed to make an impact. So far in 2013, he‚Äôs doing just that.
His contributions haven‚Äôt been lost on Brady, who spoke with the media on Friday, ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs been great. He‚Äôs worked so hard to get this chance and he‚Äôs really taken advantage of the opportunity. He‚Äôs done just a great job,‚ÄĚ Brady said.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs great having him out there. The trust and confidence level in him and what he‚Äôs able to do, it‚Äôs been great. With Danny (Amendola) out, Julian has to fill that void and he‚Äôs done a great job with that.‚ÄĚ
While much of New England‚Äôs fan base still continues to look backward at the one who got away, their eyes should be looking forward because with Edelman getting into a great groove in the offense as well as doing a great job on punt returns. Once Amendola, Gronkowski and Vereen do return, this Patriots offense should be just fine and have a plethora of weapons for Brady to utilize.
And for the stat geeks who love to pore over the stats of individual players, the numbers between Edelman and the ‚Äėguy who got away‚Äô is here, take from it what you will.
Edelman – 34 receptions for 319 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Welker –¬† ¬†¬†26 receptions for 266 yards and 6 touchdowns.
So while the offense may have struggled early to get untracked, you certainly can‚Äôt point to Edelman‚Äôs production as a reason why, nor the lack of a player who is no longer here. And for Edelman, he isn‚Äôt taking anything for granted.
‚ÄúUltimately, I just want to go out there and try to do my job. That‚Äôs contribute to the team any way I can,‚ÄĚ he told the Providence Journal.
With the continued emergence of Thompkins and Dobson, once Amendola returns, the Patriots can toss out some of those 4 WR sets we‚Äôve seen in the past and have plenty of options. Gronkowski‚Äôs availability just magnifies that.
Edelman has gained the trust of Brady and will continue to be a big part of the offense, even once the other players return. And his pay, tied completely to production this season, will continue to grow. It‚Äôs a scenario that the team will gladly pay.