DENVER -- If you had forgotten how dramatically Julian Edelman changes the Patriots offense, you were quickly reminded during Saturday afternoon’s playoff game. Tom Brady got his binky back, and wasn’t afraid to go to Edelman early and often.
“Edelman is hard to cover,” said Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. “He’s got such quickness and short-area quickness, and they’re on the same page all the time and the quarterback can get the ball to you, no matter which guy is playing there.”
“I think the fact that he was targeted what, 16 times last week, I think? The thing about him is that he does a lot of work underneath and stuff, but he’s so good after the catch,” said Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak. “If you’re not tackling well and doing those types of things with him, you’re going to give up some big plays. He’s been a special player. Like I said, last time we didn’t see him, but we understand what we’re facing with him.”
Kubiak has stressed that all week that it’s not just trying to bring down the big fella, Rob Gronkowski. Both Edelman and Danny Amendola have escapability as well. So naturally, you would assume Edelman’s presence change what the Broncos will try and do in Sunday’s AFC title game.
Or does it?
“He changes it for them, not for us,” said linebacker Von Miller. “Our game plan is just the same. He’s a playmaker, no doubt about it. But our job is just to shut them down when they come here.”
Spoken like a man who’s not tasked with having to actually cover Edelman. The guys on the Denver defense who do -- Aqib Talib, Chris Harris and Bradley Roby -- sound like Edelman might keep them awake at night.
“I feel like he brings the whole offense together,” offered Talib. “If you take him out, Tom [Brady] is missing that one guy in the middle, that one go-to guy in the middle, on the outside, the reverses, punt return. I feel like when he’s there, they’re a complete team this year. He makes them a complete team.”
“He and Brady, (they have a) connection," said Harris. "Brady just seems to know where he’s going to come out of his breaks. They run tons of option routes off my leverage, so if I play him outside, he’ll go inside. They have a great chemistry together, so I would say just those two playing together for so long is really what separates them.”
“It changes the offense because they him use in certain ways,” said Roby. “He’s definitely one of their top targets. Him being back is definitely going to be something else that we have to game plan for. ”
With Harris hampered a week ago because of a deep bone bruise in that shoulder, the Broncos might be forced to push second-year pro Roby inside. According to Pro Football Focus, Roby allowed as many catches from the slot this year as Harris did in just one-third of the snaps. Is that a concern for Kubiak?
“Bradley has played really well for us,” he said. “I mean he played really well last week. [He] got put in some tough spots, some different things, but I think Bradley has really come a long way as a pro. He’s not listed as a starter when you look at our base defense, but if you look at what we really play when it’s all said and done, I’d say Bradley has been a starter all year.”
Even if Harris does play, Denver will be tested by a Pats offense that will be able to ramp up the tempo now that it has its full compliment of weapons together again.
“They just go more spread,” said Harris. “To have [Danny] Amendola, Edelman and [Brandon] LaFell in, that’s what they like. They like to have those three receivers out. The first time that we played them, they went more two tight-end sets. We expect to definitely not see that much and definitely expect to see those receivers and see Brady spread the ball around a little bit more.”
“The challenge with Brady is he’s one of the best quarterbacks playing in the National Football League,” said Miller. “Sometimes he doesn’t even need an offensive line. It’s just that connection with Gronkowski, the connection with Edelman and with Amendola and all of the receivers that he has is just instantaneous. It’s just, ‘Hut,’ and boom, [pass] right now. Half of the time, he doesn’t even need a pass [protection]. He’s doing most of it himself. We’re going to have to be tight in the secondary, which I expect us to be. We will have to get a pass rush every down because you never know what opportunity is going to present itself for you to go and make a big play.”
That means the Broncos will need to get their hands on the Pats wideouts, big and small, if they want to take away the advantages that the Brady-led offense always seem to find.
“You want to disrupt the timing,” said safety T.J. Ward. “You want to make Brady hold the ball. We’re going to need tight coverage. Even if they catch the ball, we need great tackling.”
“You’ve got [a QB] that get the ball out pretty quick,” said Kubiak. “When guys do that, you better do a good job at the line of scrimmage.”
As Kubiak and his entire defense knows from years of playing against Brady, Edelman and this offense, that’s easier said than done.