The Patriots picked up their 6th win of the season on Sunday in Pittsburgh and with a Buffalo Bills loss, are in complete control of the AFC East. Despite tremendous success in 2016, one piece of the Pats offense, arguably one of the most important pieces of the last several years, has seen a sharp decline in production. Julian Edelman was previously the #1 target in the passing game, but has been almost invisible during large swaths of games this year and has made only minor contributions. The drop-off in his numbers are significant.
Through 7 games last season, Edelman was the #1 option for Tom Brady and was lighting up defenses across the league. This year, he is a complementary player. Why the drop-off? I have a few thoughts.
|Julian Edelman (through 7 games)|
1. Missing his best friend
For the first 4 games of 2016, Edelman was without his best friend, big brother, and idol under center. Edelman is completely and utterly head-over-heals obsessed with Tom Brady, so without him, he is lost. Although it’s somewhat of a joke, there is some serious truth to it as well. In the first 4 games of the season, Edelman was targeted 27 times and in the 3 games since Brady’s return he has been targeted 27 times, a nice increase for JE11. What this doesn’t explain is Edelman’s drop in catch percentage with Brady under center (70.4% with Jacoby Brissett and Jimmy Garoppolo throwing the passes and 66.7% with Brady).
2. Added firepower
The addition of offensive weapons this year has taken opportunities away from Edelman. Any other year, the loss of Rob Gronkowski to injury for any period of time would afford Edelman even more touches, but not in 2016. Martellus Bennett stepped in this year and had 2 100-yard receiving games in the first 4 weeks of the year. Bennett has a 77.1% catch percentage this year and 367 yards and 4 TDs through 7 games. Add the production of James White in the red zone the last few weeks (3 TDs) and that spells trouble for JE11’s stats.
3. Foot injury
Edelman’s foot injury may be hampering his quickness and ability to separate from defenders. Even when he completes the catch, he’s not getting the same type of separation from defenders. Sunday’s game against the Steelers was a great example. Edelman caught 9 of 10 passes, but averaged just 6.67 yards per reception. He would make the catch and then couldn’t create any space to pick up chunks of yards after the catch. He would catch, turn, and go down, rather than make a move and gain at least a few extra yards like he has in the past. If his foot is 100% healthy, then I worry about a loss of quickness, his greatest asset, at age 30.
4. Opposing defenses keying on him
Given how important the quick slant is to the Patriots, many defenses are treating Edelman like a #1 WR hoping to stunt the offense by slowing him down. They are playing more physical with him at the line knowing that the quick patterns are all about timing. Brady loves to get the ball out fast (under 2 seconds as we hear about on every game broadcast) so defenders are keying in on Edelman. That tends to open up opportunities for others, but certainly doesn’t help Edelman break out.
There is a long way to go in the 2016 season and I predict Edelman’s numbers will begin to tick upward after the bye week (week 9). He’ll have a chance for some extra rest and can come into the Pats week 10 matchup with the Seattle Seahawks refreshed. The best news of all for Pats fans: Even with a less-than-ideal Edelman, the team is 6-1 and not showing signs of struggling on offense.