Sunday, October 9, 2011
Revis gives Welker all he can handle
By Chris Forsberg ESPNBoston.com
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It's easy to see why receivers get frustrated against New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis. He's physical at the line, making it hard for receivers to simply get into their routes, then he's fast enough to chase his man from there. Sometimes his coverage is so suffocating, it can seem like the ball is never going to head in that receiver's direction.
Heck, entering Sunday's game, the receiver Revis was in charge of defending hadn't caught a single pass the past three weeks, according to coverage stats logged by analytical site Pro Football Focus. In fact, only 13 passes had sailed Revis' way this season and only three were caught for a measly 38 yards.
As Wes Welker found out Sunday, the key might simply be patience.
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Which is easier said than done when you only step on the gridiron once per week. Welker entered Sunday's tilt with the Jets averaging a whopping 13.8 targets per game this season. But over the course of the first 18 snaps he and Revis were matched up against one another on Sunday, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady barely looked in Welker's direction.
In fact, it took a near-perfect lob from Brady just to squeeze in a mere 4-yard completion to Welker late in the first half. Revis wasn't even bragging when he noted after the game, "I had him covered like a blanket."
Welker never got frustrated. He got his opportunity to strike on the first play of the second half and pounced. Revis and safety Eric Smith had a little miscommunication, which left both of them chasing Welker down the middle of the field where Brady delivered a strike. Welker hauled in a 73-yard pass that, despite being caught by Revis from behind, highlighted a touchdown drive that helped New England emerge with a 30-21 triumph at Gillette Stadium.
Based on numbers charted by ESPN Boston from the press box (a small margin for error), Welker and Revis were matched up on 42 plays, which resulted in three targets and two catches for 77 yards.
Think about that. Thirty-nine times Welker zigged and zagged, but rarely generated enough space for Brady to even consider throwing in his direction. Welker instead took advantage of those few opportunities when the Jets brought in another defender to cover him, finishing with five catches for 126 yards overall.
"[Revis is] a great player," Welker said. "You definitely have to make sure you're very crisp with all your routes and really set him up with stuff and be smart about it. Every play is go-time when he's across from you. He does a great job with all that. It's a little game of cat and mouse sometimes with him. You just have to keep on plugging away and hopefully get some big plays every once in a while."
You can argue -- and Revis supporters surely will -- that it was Smith's responsibility to be on Welker in what turned out to be maybe the biggest play of the game. It appeared that both Revis and Smith got caught cheating up to play the run, only to watch Welker sprint by.
"It was just one of those plays where the safety was a little overaggressive," Welker said. "We ran a similar type of play and ran the ball, so I kind of got a feel for what that safety was doing. I went down, then kind of acted like I was going to block him, and then took off on it. Tom made a good throw. Hopefully, next time I can just finish that out."
Said Revis: "We tried to switch it up on them a little bit. I was on [Welker] a couple of times and a couple of other people were also on him. We were just trying to give them a mixture of things. He made a couple of great plays today, especially with the big one. It was like he was going across the field and got us on a double move, then he was gone up the field."
Wes Welker leads the NFL in receptions and receiving yards.
By Welker's 2011 standards, it was a quiet day. After all, his 740 receiving yards this season are not only a league best, but also an NFL record through five games. Welker is on pace for 2,368 receiving yards, which would absolutely annihilate the NFL record of of 1,848 by Jerry Rice in 1995 (heck, at this pace, he might challenge the Patriots' record of 1,493 yards by Randy Moss in 2007 by midseason).
Welker caught an 11-yard pass on New England's first offensive play of the game, then found himself on Revis Island by play No. 2. The Jets still mixed things up on him and he made a 32-yard grab on the team's second drive of the day, which meant an even larger dose of Revis the rest of the way.
Take away his big grab to open the second half, and Welker caught only one of four passes in his direction for a mere 4 yards in the second half. He finished with eight targets, which would have been a solid quarter when he had 19 passes come his way in Buffalo two weeks ago.
But as difficult as Revis made it on Welker, it was a two-way street.
"He's different because he's a slot receiver," Revis said. "He's not your typical No. 1 receiver. He has a lot of tricks in his bag in how he runs his routs and he's very crafty and shifty inside. Every route he's doing, he's wiggling left and right trying to get away from you."
And the Patriots refused to let Revis alter their method of attack.
"We're going to run our offense regardless of who he's guarding," Deion Branch said of Revis, who was almost always on him when Revis wasn't defending Welker. "If he's guarding Wes, and the play is designed to go to Wes, we're going to try to get Wes the ball. Or if it's me. The guy's a great player, but the biggest thing is for us to go out and take care of our business and not worry about who is guarding who and what defense they're running. We've just got to go out and execute our plays."
For 39 snaps, Revis made Welker's life difficult. He slipped up on one and Welker made the Jets pay.
Chris Forsberg covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.