Patriots

Curran: Welker's workload getting ridiculous

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Curran: Welker's workload getting ridiculous

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran
OAKLAND - Wes Welker is on pace for 160 receptions. Wes Welker is on pace for 2,464 receiving yards. Wes Welker is on pace to get broken from overuse.

Sunday in Oakland, Tom Brady looked to Welker 14 times and connected with him nine. The Sunday before in Buffalo, Welker was targeted 20 times. He caught 16. He's got more than twice the number of catches the Patriots' second-leading receiver, tight end Rob Gronkowski (who's got nearly a foot and 100 pounds on Welker), has. He's got nearly six times as many catches as Chad Ochocinco (that Ocho's pulling down 5.75 million this year and Welker's haul is 2.5 million is laughable in the extreme). Injuries are unpredictable. Some guys who appear built for durability are forever breaking down. And those who would figure to be on the wrong side of simple physics in every collision -- Welker -- are seemingly unbreakable. It's worth noting here that the worst injury Welker sustained was a torn ACL on a play where he wasn't even hit in the knee.Despite his remarkable workload, Welker isn't worried about his health.
I feel like this is the best Ive ever felt, said Welker. This is the best Ive played in my career.Still, if there's a finite number of hits a player can take before something gives, Welker must be approaching it. Brady has thrown the ball at him 57 times this season. Fifty-seven in four games!!He has been thrown to more often that BenJarvus Green-Ellis has been handed off to (50). Bill Belichick on Sunday shrugged about the number of throws Welker's way and praised his toughness.
"You worry about everybody," Belichick said. "Look, its a physical game. Everybody gets hit out there."But the documentary of the 2009 season where Belichick expressed concern about Welker's health prior to the regular-season finale shows it's on his mind. The Patriots aren't going to sit Welker down or put him in bubble wrap. If he's out there and he's open, he needs to get the ball. But, frankly, there are other wideouts open as well. Most notably Deion Branch. Over the past two games, he's caught three passes after an explosive start to the year. Whether Brady's taking the path of least resistance and throwing to Welker because he's a sure thing or is truly led to No. 83 by the coverages play after play after play, only No. 12 can truly answer. But the Welker workload is going to have to be managed soon. Or he may not work so good.Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady is on pace for 5,224 yards passing in 2017, just a shade under his total from his career-high in 2011. He's on track to have 34 touchdowns and just five picks. Barring a continued run of ridiculous efficiency from Kansas City's Alex Smith, those numbers would be MVP-caliber in all likelihood.

But Brady's not thrilled with the way he's played of late. What gives? 

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In his past two games, he hasn't thrown the football as consistently as he would have liked. After starting the season with a 10-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he's 3-to-2 in the last couple of weeks. His accuracy has been at times pinpoint (as it was on his 42-yard completion to Brandin Cooks to help set up a Rob Gronkowski score against the Jets), but it has also been uncharacteristically erratic.

He was picked deep down the middle of the field by Buster Skrine last week, but the more concerning throw may have been the quick out-route to Gronkowski that Skrine dropped for what should have been an easy interception. Brady missed Phillip Dorsett on what looked like it could have been a long touchdown with Dorsett running free behind the defense. He threw behind Chris Hogan twice in the game, one of which opened up Hogan to a rib-shot that landed him on the injury report this week.

Against the Jets, Brady was not sacked and he was hit only four times -- a light day for him compared to other weeks this season when he's been battered. Yet he still completed just under 53 percent of his passes for 257 yards and a season-low 6.76 yards per attempt. 

"Well, I've got to hit the open . . . If the throws are there I've got to be able to make them," he said on Friday. "It's disappointing when I don't. To me, it just comes back to technique and fundamentals and making sure everything is working and that's the consistent daily thing that you're working on. I'm always working on my accuracy.

"I wish I hit them all. I'm capable of hitting them all and I need to be able to do that. I said last week that some of these games wouldn't be as close if I was playing better in the red area. I think some of those missed opportunities in the pass game with me hitting guys would really help our team. Hopefully, I can do a better job for this team."

Brady is no longer listed on the Patriots injury report, but he dealt with a left shoulder injury against both the Bucs and the Jets, and it's worth wondering if that somehow impacted how his passes traveled in those games. Balance is key in Brady's world, and even though he can make flat-footed throws look easy, perhaps an injury to his front side limited his ability to place the ball where he wanted. 

Keeping Brady upright could go a long way in helping the 40-year-old regain his form from Weeks 2-4 when he didn't dip below a 104 quarterback rating. Bill Belichick said earlier this week that part of the reason the Jets pass-rush wasn't quite as effective as others they'd faced this year was his team's ability to run the ball. Productive rushing attempts on first and second down mean manageable third downs, which mean shorter pass attempts. Those of course, in theory, lead to less time standing in the pocket and a healthier quarterback.

"It's great," Brady said of his team's recent surge running the football. "I mean, to be able to run the ball consistently in the NFL is important for every offense. It does take a lot of . . . I wouldn't say pressure, it's just production. If 400 yards of offense is what you're looking for and you can get 150 from your running game, the 250 has got to come in the passing game. If you're getting 50 yards in the rushing game then it means you've got to throw for more.

"I don't think it's pressure it's just overall you're going to get production in different areas and the backs are a big part of our offense and handing the ball off to them is an easy way for us to gain yards if we're all coordinated and doing the right thing. But those guys are running hard. The line is doing a great job up front finishing blocks and so forth."

Against the Falcons and their talented -- though underperforming -- offense this weekend, the running game could be key. First, it could help the Patriots defense by controlling possession and keeping Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman off the field. Next are the obvious advantages for the signal-caller who could use a stress-free day in the pocket to help him solve his recent accuracy issues. 

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