If there is a dominant, leading receiver on the New England Patriots, that player has yet to show himself. The roles for each have waxed and waned. When it comes to consistency and dependability, though, Julian Edelman has been in a class of his own this year.
Tom Brady has turned to a different receiver nearly every week to help get the passing game going. Through 11 games, the Patriots have had six different leading receivers in terms of receptions.
On Sunday against the Broncos, he had just two catches in the first half before pulling in six in the fourth quarter (two for touchdowns) and one in overtime.
Considering he was targeted 11 times, his nine receptions are impressive. According to stats website Pro Football Focus, Edelman was covered by five different defenders, and had a reception against each one.
Edelman (circled in yellow) gave the Patriots their first points of the night when he caught this touchdown on the Patriots first drive in the third quarter.
Sometimes, you'll see a perimeter (X) receiver run a clearing route to help get another receiver open. That doesn't work as well in the red zone, where the shorter field tightens the windows for a quarterback to complete a pass.
On this play, both Aaron Dobson and Danny Amendola ran in-breaking routes while Edelman ran a wheel route toward the back corner of the end zone. This is a pick play, and the Patriots got away with one here, but Edelman's job wasn't made easier by the pick.
In fact, Broncos cornerback Quentin Jammer had a great play on the route, and was stuck to Edelman in coverage as he ran toward the back pylon -- one could even argue he was interfered with, but Edelman continued to track the ball in flight and managed to get just enough separation to haul in the pass as he tumbled to the ground and out of the back of the end zone.
It's nice to be able to throw to open receivers all the time, but it's also nice to know that your receiver can make a catch in traffic.
Brady would have a chance to throw to an open Edelman later in the game, this time to give the Patriots their first lead of the night.
He ran a five-yard out and quickly got open, allowing Brady to release the ball shortly after taking the snap. Once Edelman caught the ball, he turned around to try to get upfield. The cornerback overpursued on the tackle, allowing Edelman to spin away. He has made moves like this on punt returns for years, and once he broke away from the cornerback, he weaved through the remaining defenders and leaped into the end zone.
Edelman showed, however, that short routes aren't the extent of his ability.
The Patriots biggest play of the game was a 43-yard reception by Edelman in the third quarter, where the receiver ran a deep post through the heart of the Broncos secondary. On the play, Edelman (circled in yellow) and Dobson were the only receivers running routes.
Brady set up the play-action fake from the two tight end set to get the defense thinking run, and Edelman and Dobson sprinted downfield.
Edelman broke his route once he reached a depth of 12 yards, but he didn't stop there, breaking again toward the left sideline. Brady had all the time he needed to find Edelman open in stride, near the sideline, where the receiver hauled in the pass and ran out of bounds.
We don't normally think of Edelman as a "deep threat" but he has proven he possesses the speed to run these routes. That's not his strength, by any stretch -- he has just 14 receptions on throws of longer than 10 yards this season, compared to 47 receptions traveling nine yards or less through the air.
For all the talk of rookie receivers and Amendola's battles with injuries, the Patriots have stumbled into a nice security blanket in Edelman.
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