When Wes Welker signed with Denver in March, the question of how New England would replace Tom Brady's favorite target surfaced immediately. Welker had 100-plus receptions in five of his six seasons as a Patriot. He was not only an extremely reliable option for Brady, but something of a safety net.
This weekend Welker returns to Foxboro. He is the Broncos' top pass catcher and will be looking to inflict some pain on his former team. So not only is the pressure on New England's defense, it's heaped on the offense to be able to answer if Welker goes off.
Brady was asked Wednesday if he feels the team has been able to replace his production in the slot.
"We're trying to spread it around to find different guys, and typically whoever's been open gets it," he noted. "I think that spot has always been big in our offense. The tight end spot's always been a productive spot. But I think we, overall, can do a better job; we're going to need to going forward in this week especially. This is a team where we know we're going to have to score a lot of points."
Led by Peyton Manning, Denver is crushing the competition with 39.9 points scored per game. The Broncos also have a league-best total yards (4,555) and passing yards (3,504). The categories are some New England has often ranked in the top three in the past. How do the Patriots compare this year? Eighth in points per game (25.4), thirteenth in total yards (3,640), and sixteenth in passing yards (2,371).
Rookies; new players; injured players. The Patriots receiving corps has changed. And it shows.
"Our offense right now is very different than it's ever been in the past, so everything we do has a different feel to it," Brady said. "We've had so many different players -- like every team has new players -- but we've got a lot of new players. We have different schemes and we're trying to find different things that work.
"I mean really, for the first time last week we've really had guys healthy, so we don't even know what we're good at. We're trying to figure out… we only scored 20 points [in Monday's loss to Carolina] so we couldn't have been that good. We're going to have to try to find ways to score more than that this week."
The current Welker question New England faces is whether he'll play Sunday afternoon. The receiver suffered a concussion in Denver's recent win over the Chiefs. He underwent baseline neurological testing Monday and can't fully participate in practice until Friday.
Brady expects his former teammate will get in the game.
"He's a tough guy. He's played through everything. It's a big game for both teams. You've got to expect their best players and I'm sure all those guys will be ready to go."
If Welker does play, the next question for New England will be the toughest yet: How do you stop him?