After a rocky start to the season in September, the New England Patriots offense has looked on point in their last two games. They beat the Miami Dolphins 38-7 in their first in division matchup of the season and wore down the Colts on Thursday night football 38-24 in a sloppy offensive spectacle. This was their first game in almost two years with WR Julian Edelman, who capped off his day with seven catches for 57 yards. A respectable outing for the 32-year old veteran. He then followed it up with his first TD of the season Sunday night against the Kansas City Chiefs to tag along with four receptions for 54 yards.
The Patriots came into the season with minimal depth at the wide receiver position, they went into week one against the Houston Texans with only four active receivers in Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson and Matthew Slater (who’s mostly used on Special Teams). It seemed to be a state of panic in New England after week two against Jacksonville, when the offense couldn’t hold onto a drive with Rob Gronkowski being double covered and Chris Hogan facing top notch talent on the opposing side of the ball; then having a repeat of the same game against Detroit in week three. We saw the rise of Josh Gordon and what this offense is truly capable of against Miami. Then in week five against the Colts, Julian Edelman returned and gave a spark to this offense that it hasn’t seen in a very long time.
That game proved just how valuable Edelman is to this offense. Now Tom Brady has the reliable third down option that he hasn’t had all season after Danny Amendola’s departure. Edelman’s presence opens up field over the middle for Chris Hogan and others while giving Edelman some room to wiggle around. Without him, this offense struggles and makes Brady hold on to the ball longer than he would like. There’s a reason why RB James White is this teams leading receiver, and the absence of Julian Edelman was a major part of this predicament.
Let’s roll back to the 2015 season. The Patriots were looking unstoppable at a 10-0 record. Tom Brady had totaled 2,948 passing yards and 24 TDs through nine games. Edelman being a big part of Brady’s success obtaining 61 total receptions for 661 yards and seven TDs before he broke his foot and missed the rest of the year. The Patriots after that, would drop four of their final six games and finish in second place in the AFC. After Edelman’s injury, Brady finished the rest of the year with just 1,654 yards and 14 TDs. Edelman did return in the playoffs only to come up short to the Denver Broncos elite defense led by Von Miller in the AFC Championship.
In the 2017 season, the Patriots did just okay without Edelman as they had great insurance behind him with the recent acquisition of Brandin Cooks and the reliability of Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola and TE Rob Gronkowski through the season. But his presence was missed in the offense. The Patriots do indeed struggle without Edelman though: there was a point late in the season last year where the Patriots were a bottom three team in third down conversions. When Edelman is on the field, they never seem to have an issue with third down.
I’d dare say Edelman is the most valuable player on this offense not named Tom Brady. It has been proven in the 2016 that they can win a Super Bowl without Rob Gronkowski, but it hasn’t been proven without Tom Brady’s favorite target in Julian Edelman. So far in his career, Edelman has 436 catches for 4,651 yards and 25 TDs. He doesn’t light up the stat sheet, but he makes the catches when they count. A perfect example would be in Super Bowl 51. In that game, Edelman caught five passes for 87 yards on 15 targets including one of the most memorable catches in NFL History. Without that catch the Patriots season is done. Even before that in Super Bowl 49 Edelman had another career day with nine catches 109 yards including the game sealing TD on 12 targets. It goes without saying that Julian Edelman is dangerously clutch.
A few statistics I would like to point out is that Edelman is second all time in total catches from Tom Brady. It’s obvious how much Brady depends on #11 to make the catch and the trust he has in him. The highest active on the team is Rob Gronkowski with 497. Along with that Brady’s percentage with Edelman since the 2009 is up at 81.9, while without him, it drops to 68.7. My final statistic is that in 2016, Edelman led the NFL in third down receiving yards with 431 and was second in total catches with 28. It’s pretty clear that few receivers are as heavily relied on in crucial moments as Julian Edelman.
The Patriots have proven how important the nine year veteran is to this offense, without him teams are allowed to triple cover Rob Gronkowski and Chris Hogan gets blanketed in coverage. That explains why RBs have been Tom Brady’s main option throughout the course of this season which is a little less than halfway over. With Edelman back and hitting the ground running, we should see some more versatility and fire from this Patriots offense and they still have room to improve!
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