Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said on Tuesday that Wes Welker's reduction in playing time during the team's season-opener was a byproduct of the team's approach to using the personnel groups it believed would give them the greatest advantage against Tennessee.
It's a process that McDaniels and his staff work through on a week-to-week basis.
"I think the game plan each week is really different," he said. "We definitely had some personnel groupings, I don’t know how many exact number of snaps, but we played quite a few snaps of three tight ends in the game at the same time. Then we played some two tight ends with two running backs in the game at the same time. Each week, we try to make the decision on what groupings or what personnel matchups may give us, whether it’s an advantage or not, we don’t know. But we maybe try to quiet the game down a little bit or take advantage of a situation we think we can take advantage of. We kind of decide those on a week-to-week basis."
On Sunday, the Patriots kept tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez on the field for all 67 offensive snaps, while also inserting recently acquired tight end Michael Hoomanawanui for 10 plays. Though not listed as a fullback on the roster, Lex Hilliard was on the field for four snaps, aligning usually in a traditional fullback set.
There has been speculation by some since the conclusion of the game that Welker's role within the Patriots' offense has changed, driven by the fact that he was on the field for just 43 of 67 snaps, and finished with just three catches for 14 yards.
McDaniels squelched the notion that Welker's role has been altered, citing again the team's approach to using the personnel groups it believes gives the offense the best chance to be effective.
"Certainly Wes had some opportunities in the game and made the most of a few of those. Then we had some other opportunities we didn’t quite hit. Wes’ role is the same as we’ve always gone," McDaniels said. "We’ll go each week and try to do what we think is best to help us win. Sometimes that may include playing more multiple tight ends. Sometimes it might be playing a lot more receivers. We kind of try to feel that out as we go through our preparation and then make the decisions that go along with it."