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Monday, September 10, 2012
Too early to draw Welker conclusions

By Field Yates

Among the topics of discussion following the Patriots' 34-13 season-opening win over the Tennessee Titans was the amount of playing time and production yielded by ace slot receiver Wes Welker.

The 31-year-old was on the field for 64.2 percent of the team's offensive snaps (43 of 67) on Sunday. By comparison, Welker was on the field more than 89 percent of the time in 2011, when he was a pace-setter for the Patriots' offense and leader amongst NFL wideouts with 122 regular-season catches.

The question has become whether this is an indication of a decreased role for Welker in 2012 or simply a case where the Patriots felt Julian Edelman (who played 23 snaps) and other skill players gave them the best opportunity to win on Sunday.

Here's a rundown of what we know:

* The Patriots and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels are known to adopt a game-plan offensive approach, which means that each week they adjust their offensive strategy based on the personnel and schemes they anticipate facing from their opponent. Other teams and coordinators rely upon a single offensive approach every week, hoping that their execution will prevail against any defensive challenge.

Wes Welker
Sunday marked just the eighth game with three or fewer catches for Wes Welker as a Patriot.
* As noted by Mike Reiss is his weekly breakdown of playing time, the Patriots aligned with two tight ends on every offensive play, while inserting a third tight end on 10 other snaps. That decreased the number of snaps available for Patriots wide receivers and could be a reflection of a continued offensive focus on the tight end position.

* Of additional note, Welker was held out of the Patriots' final two preseason contests, with coach Bill Belichick at one time describing his status as "day-to-day." (Welker said that his absences were due to personal reasons.) Welker was not listed on the team's injury report in Week 1, but it's possible that the team opted for a cautious approach in his return to the field, if in fact he was previously dealing with some sort of ailment.

* Excluding the season finale in 2009 in which Welker was injured early against the Houston Texans, Sunday marked the eighth game in which he has finished with three receptions or fewer as a Patriot.

* Our sample size for the Patriots offense is just 67 plays. There's certainly plenty of football left to be played.

For now, it appears best to reserve judgment on making a wholesale conclusion as to what Sunday means as it relates to Welker's role within the offense.