BOSTON (CBS) — Speculation of the Patriots’ mysterious use of Wes Welker has officially made the jump from local sports radio to national TV, with ESPN’s SportsCenter using the buzzwords “phasing out” on Thursday morning. To many, the discussion has grown tiresome, and to others, it’s a story line that lacks any basis in truth. Still, to some, the idea that Bill Belichick is going out of his way to use less of Welker and more of Julian Edelman is a very real situation, so it’s dominated discussion in New England for the past two weeks.
And if history is any indication, the story line will live on for at least one more week. The Patriots will visit the Ravens on Sunday night, a team that’s made it difficult for Welker to find success in past meetings.
Of course, when analyzing Welker’s production, success is a relative term. In four games against the Ravens, he’s caught 16 passes for 119 yards and no touchdowns, which averages out to four receptions and 30 yards per game.
While the average is lower than you’d expect out of Welker in a four-game sample, he has posted reasonable stats in his most recent three games against Baltimore.
Welker vs. Ravens
2007, Week 13: 3 catches, 18 yards
2009, Week 4: 6 catches, 48 yards
2010, Week 10: 7 catches, 53 yards
2011 AFC Championship: 6 catches, 53 yards
Normally, Welker catching six passes for 50 or so yards wouldn’t generate too much negative attention, but considering there’s been a firestorm of theories and conspiracies following Welker’s five-catch, 95-yard game last week, it’s hard to imagine what kind of performance it would take for Welker to kill this story on Sunday.
Adding to the likelihood of another week of The Snap Count Controversy is that Tom Brady’s struggled against the Ravens as well. Since 2007, Brady has completed 57.8 percent of his 192 passes against the Ravens, throwing six touchdowns and eight interceptions while averaging 240 yards per game.
While history isn’t on Welker’s side, it’s still unknown what exactly it would take to make this story go away. A common myth has been that Julian Edelman has passed Welker on the depth chart. Facts, however, state otherwise. Welker has taken eight more offensive snaps than Edelman, Welker’s been targeted 16 times compared to Edelman’s eight, and Welker has eight catches for 109 yards, compared to Edelman’s six catches for 57 yards. What exactly is the problem there? Some have argued that had it not been for Aaron Hernandez’s early injury against the Cardinals, Welker would not have played a role in the game plan. As a famous football coach once said, if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, then it would be Christmas every day. We’re talking reality here, not conjecture.
Then, there are the theories. Oh, the theories. Some say Belichick is mad at Welker and plays him less often because he didn’t sign a team-friendly deal, even if that means Belichick would make such a decision knowing it would hurt his team’s chances of winning football games. Others say Welker’s being “phased out” of the offense, an overused term that really means nothing. The crux of the “argument” is that Welker, making $9.5 million this year under the franchise tag, has become too expensive, so the Patriots are beginning life without Welker a year early, so that next season requires less of an adjustment. This is the worst theory of all. Find me an NFL coach of a Super Bowl-caliber team who is willing to be worse right now in order to be better off next season, and I’ll show you an unemployed man. A Hall of Fame coach who is one of the best in history would not fit into that category.
None of that, however, has mattered, and the discussion surrounding Welker forges on. Are the Patriots “phasing him out”? Do the Patriots think Edelman is better? Is Bill exacting some sort of revenge? Is the team trying to trade Welker? Are our pets’ heads falling off?
The answer, most likely, to all of those is a firm no, but if Brady’s and Welker’s trends against Baltimore continue, expect the questions to persist in New England.