Why was Wes Welker’s play limited Sunday?

This has been the number one question for most Patriots fans following Sunday’s 34-13 win over the Tennessee Titans. Welker caught only three passes for 14 yards and was targeted just five times. The other weapons in the passing game had much bigger games as off-season acquisition Brandon Lloyd caught five passes for 59 yards and was targeted eight times. Aaron Hernandez totaled 59 yards on six catches and a touchdown, while being targeted seven times. Rob Gronkowski caught six balls for 60 yards and one touchdown. He was targeted six times.


Welker saw a reduction in offensive snaps in the Patriots opener. (FILE:USPresswire)

When looking at snap counts courtesy of ESPN Boston it shows Welker played only 64 percent of the snaps (43-of-67), compared to last year playing just under 90 percent of the snaps. Lloyd played 57-of-67 snaps, and third wide receiver Julian Edelman played 23-of-67 snaps, taking some reps from Welker, despite only having one catch on the day. Welker didn’t seem to mind the limited role.

“Not really, because at the end of the day it’s about winning ballgames,” he told reporters Monday after the team returned home. “However we need to do that or whatever we need to do, that’s what we’re going to do. That’s the ultimate goal every time we go out there on Sunday, and however I can contribute, whether it’s a big day in stats or not, or blocking, or however I need to do it, that’s what it’s going to be, and I’m just trying to do my part as far as that goes.”

There have been a number of theories being thrown around regarding Welker’s playing time situation. Is Bill Belichick and the Patriots punishing Welker for his part in the negotiations for a new contract? Are the Patriots looking ahead to what life will be like without Welker if he does not return next season? These are both very unlikely, rather it is most likely something else.

The Patriots have altered their approach on offense, which in turn limits Welker’s productivity. Gronkowski and Hernandez are the best tight end tandem in the league and were both on the field for nearly every offensive play on Sunday. 46 of the 67 plays saw a 2 WR/2 TE/1 RB set. While Lloyd and Welker were two receivers usually in this set, Edelman was mixed in here and there.

With the focus of the Patriots offense being around the two tight ends, and not Welker, it should not be a surprise to see his playing time take a hit. The past few seasons, especially before Hernandez and Gronkowski became what they are today, the offense was focused on Welker and that is the reason he played so much. Slot receivers rarely see as much playing time as Welker did, and now with two tight ends occupying the middle of the field, there isn’t as big of a need for a slot receiver. An outside the numbers receiver is more of an asset with having two explosive tight ends as it can open up the middle of the field, which is why Lloyd saw the number of plays that he did.

With that being said, new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels showed his creativity in his play calling and was able to spread the wealth as best as he could. This will be a trend that continues all season. Keep in mind the Patriots alter their game plan on a week to week basis depending on their opponent. So, a player that sees a lot of reps one week might not see the same amount the next week.

Welker’s situation isn’t really a big deal — it’s just one game. It isn’t like he was completely taken out of the offense either. One game is a very small sample size. This will be a situation to revisit after about four games and knowing how committed the Patriots are to balance this year, Welker’s numbers will change, so don’t panic after just the first game.

 

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