Precision of Welker, Branch is where Patriots are unique

Precision of Welker, Branch is where Patriots are unique
May 31, 2011, 3:38 pm
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By Tom E. Curran

If you like football and you aren't following Greg Cosell on Twitter, you ought to. He's been at NFL Films for 32 years. He's currently a senior producer there and way back in 1984, he and Steve Sabol created NFL Matchup, the first nuts-and-bolts, Xs-and-Os show that demonstrated the technical and strategic artistry of the NFL game. In addition to continuing with that show and co-authoring The Games That Changed The Game with Ron Jaworski and David Plaut, Cosell breaks down hours of game film. He uses the "all-22" coach's film so he gets a better look at what's going on than the rest of us. He's been tweeting his position-by-position findings during this long, dry offseason. Over the next few days, I'll pick Cosell's brain about the Patriots' personnel and schemes. Second in this little string: wide receivers. Cosell makes the salient point that the Patriots' system and quarterback are what makes their receivers potent. That and the receivers' willingness to buy into the system's precision and be deferential to the quarterback's decisions are what make the Patriots offense unique. More skilled wideouts than Wes Welker and Deion Branch exist. But there aren't any who fit more seamlessly with the Patriots than they do. On Wes WelkerGC: I've had this debate with Peter King (of Sports Illustrated) for years about the top players. He would always have Wes Welker. Now I love Wes Welker. It's hard not to love him. But he's a very specific kind of player and -- as remarkable as he is -- he is a function of the entire offense and what's around him. He's got a tremendous understanding on how to run routes against zone and what made Welker too good with Randy Moss is that Moss demanded Cover-2. Against that kind of coverage, the phenomenal short area quickness, the fact that he's in and out of breaks so quickly and never has to throttle down makes him as good as anyone in football between the numbers. But he is a function of an entire offense. He doesn't define an offense. Moss, Brady's ability before the snap and the versatility of the offense means he's in a perfect, perfect situation.On Deion BranchGC: I think Deion Branch is a nice, short-to-intermediate receiver. He's a good route runner. He can win against man coverage but if you give him a steady does all the time he will struggle to separate. He is deadly against zone. Skill-set wise, he is replaceable, but because of the nature of the Patriots passing game which is so much based on pre-snap reads, his intelligence is not. That's where he does excel. And that's why he can go somewhere else and he becomes just another guy then comes back to New England and flourishes. He's got a great understanding of all that's involved. On Brandon TateGC: Very often, the way players are used tells you how a coaching staff feels about them. The way the Patriots use Brandon Tate tells that they don't think much of him at this point. He runs about three routes and the only time the ball comes to him is when a play is specifically called for him. In terms of physical ability, he's very good. If you look at the skill set of a wideout, he has it. He's big, he runs well, he's got good lateral quickness. But in taking the spot of Randy Moss,hewas stepping in for someone who wasas good a vertical receiver as we've ever seen. Tate has vertical skills but not Randy Moss vertical skills and that's why coverage was different for Tate after Moss left. I also think Tate's hands can be erratic That can't happen with the few plays they run for him. They just don't feel he was ready last year. And he's the kind of guy getting killed by the work stoppage. He really needed this offseason. On Julian EdelmanGC: I'm not saying anything that people haven't already realized in that he's very similar to Welker. (Asked if he believed Edelman will ultimately be capable of replacing Welker, Cosell answered that he could.) SummaryCosell cuts to the Catch-22 of the Patriots' wideout situation. There's a high level ofinstitutional knowledge necessary to play well at wide receiver for the Patriots. So while Welker and Branch may be a lot closer to the end of their physical usefulness than the beginning, it's hard to push away from them. Once the season starts, it comes down to winning games. So the emphasis on developing guys like Edelman, Tate and Taylor Price goes out the window as the Patriots prepare for every Sunday's matchup. Meanwhile, because Tate is lacking as a vertical threat to be taken seriously on every play, the Patriots are a more horizontal passing offense since neither Branch nor Welker is going to burn past corners with regularity. The Patriots sacrifice explosiveness for precision and -- as the numbers show -- it works. But getting the successors to Branch and Welker well-versed in the nuances of the Patriots attack gets harder all the time -- especially with the lockout ongoing.

Tom E. Curran can be reached at Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran