It used to be that the New England Patriots had more receivers than the New York Jets had defensive backs who could ably cover them.
In a stunning twist, due to injuries and the offseason departure of wide receiver Wes Welker, the Jets may have more cornerbacks than the Patriots have wide receivers who can ably catch the ball on Thursday night in New England's home opener.
On Sunday, veteran wide receiver Julian Edelman reminded us why familiarity could be his key to a big year in the Patriots offense.
There's another reason he might have a big year: injuries to his teammates.
Amendola battled through a groin injury, leaving and returning. He's almost certain to miss Thursday. Hurts with Vereen out, Sudfeld ailing— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 10, 2013
Now, Edelman may end up matched up one-on-one with any combination of Jets cornerbacks: rookie Dee Milliner, and veterans Antonio Cromartie and Isaiah Trufant could be assigned to cover Edelman depending on the situation and where he lines up.
For the most part, the Jets will probably match their rookie on the Patriots rookie, Kenbrell Thompkins, who struggled last week, while matching up their better cornerback, Cromartie, on Brady's most trusted target, Edelman.
Edelman may have a similar frame to slot receivers like Amendola and Welker, but he is primarily a boundary receiver for the Patriots. According to stats website Pro Football Focus, Edelman ran just 44 of a possible 182 routes from the outside in 2012.
That's also where he was found least often on Sunday against the Bills, with 16 of his 51 routes coming from the slot.
He lined up in the slot initially on this 1st-and-10 in the fourth quarter, but motioned out wide to the right side of the formation and ran a seven-yard post. Notice how far cornerback Justin Rogers is lined up from the line of scrimmage.
The Patriots gave a convincing play-action fake, with a lead block from fullback James Develin and a block from tight end Michael Hoomanawanui as well.
The linebackers froze, and that freed up Edelman over the middle. Because Rogers was so far off the line, he was out of position to make the play.
There were still more yards to be had after the catch, and Edelman put his head down and broke through Rogers' arm tackle.
Cromartie's season, on the flip side, didn't get off to a great start.
He was in coverage on Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson, one of the best in the game. Patriots fans who attended training camp may recall Jackson as the guy no one could cover.
Jackson caught three passes for 68 yards with Cromartie covering him, including this 39-yard gain on a slant, which was the longest play of the day for the Buccaneers through the air.
It was likely an option route for Jackson, where he runs his route based on the coverage of the defense. Freeman had begun his throwing motion before Jackson had even entered his break, because the window over the middle was so wide, he knew Jackson would take the slant over the middle.
Jackson might still be running were it not for a tackle by safety Dawan Landry.
On the day, Cromartie gave up five receptions on seven targets for 77 yards.
Don't underestimate him, though, by any stretch.
He is still one of the better cover corners in the league, and has made life difficult for the Patriots in recent contests. In fact, Tom Brady has gone 4-of-12 passing (33.3 percent) for 49 yards (4.1 YPA) throwing in Cromartie's direction over the past three meetings between the Patriots and Jets. Cromartie has also broken up two passes.
Thus, if Edelman and Cromartie lock horns on Thursday night, it will surely be a matchup to watch.
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