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Don't blame Welker, blame the pass

Posted by Greg A. Bedard  February 7, 2012 08:34 AM

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ww_pass.jpgPatriots receiver Wes Welker took the blame after the Super Bowl for his “drop.”

Quarterback Tom Brady didn’t help matters when he didn’t say anything about how he should have thrown a better ball. Whether he believed that or not, that’s what Brady usually does.

Combine both things, and you have an avalanche of blame being heaped on Welker.

And in my mind, that is totally wrong.

The pass wasn't good enough.

Welker never should have been put in that position.

Why?

Because he never was during the season.

Welker might have said that’s a catch he’s made a thousand times. And maybe he has in practice or in previous seasons.

But during 2011, Welker did not have to make a leaping back-shoulder catch with the ball way above his head.

Not even close.

I know, because I watched all 195 of Welker’s targets, from the season opener at Miami, until the fateful incompletion in Super Bowl XLVI.

I’ll be writing more about this in tomorrow’s Globe, but here are a few notes on why Brady was more at fault than Welker.

  • Difficulty: Brady put a little air under it to give Welker a chance to adjust to the ball. But it’s an incredibly difficult catch to make, going from a full sprint to turning around the other way while trying to make a catch. Even if Welker caught the ball, it’s not even definite that he would have kept possession once he hit the turf hard – which he was going to do because the throw put him so off balance.
  • Vertical does not suit Welker: On those 195 routes Welker was targeted on, do you know how many were of the vertical variety on the route tree – a fade, post, corner and a slant-and-go? Twenty eight total. Or 14.3 percent. Only 17 were a version of that fade route (8.7 percent). Those vertical routes are not Welker’s game, which is why the Patriots seldom throw those to him. Welker’s bread-and-butter – 85.7 percent worth – is on the lower end of the route tree: the flat, slant, comeback, curl, out, dig and various quick passes. Vertical receivers have long arms and big hands. Those help when you have to make those circus catches. Welker has neither. The Patriots, better than any team, put their players in the best position to succeed. They know what they have or don’t have. They know Welker is better catching the ball to his body and absorbing contact or running to the boundary.
  • Welker is not an acrobatic catcher: Most of the time. He made terrific diving catch to the 1-yard line against the Jets, but he laid out for that ball. Welker was thrown 10 passes before the Super Bowl when he had to leave his feet to make the catch and he caught eight of them. On seven of the passes (six receptions), Welker jumped straight up from a standstill to attempt the catch. Of the other three that were much more difficult, Welker had one against the Eagles that could have been considered a drop (he would have landed on his feet if he did catch it). Against the Steelers, Welker made a tough leaping catch towards the sideline for a minimal, but important 2-yard gain to pick up a first down. Against the Raiders, Welker made perhaps his best catch of the season – the one that probably makes Welker believe he should have caught the ball in the Super Bowl. On third-and-6 late the third quarter, Welker ran a corner route towards the sideline from the right slot. Brady threw a beautiful pass over the trailing cornerback and Welker’s inside shoulder. Welker had to leave his feet and take a brutal shot to the back from the safety. But Welker held on. That was a sensational catch. But it didn’t have to be made running full speed and twisting back over the other shoulder, like Welker was asked to do in the Super Bowl.
  • Backshoulder is rare: Brady only threw four back-shoulder throws downfield to Welker all season. Not one was thrown high. They all hit Welker in the stomach, or high in the chest. And receivers don’t expect backshoulder throwns when they’re in space. Back-shoulder is used when the defender is playing tight coverage underneath. The receiver knows the ball is coming, the defender does not. The Packers, with Aaron Rodgers and Greg Jennings, missed on a very similar play early in their NFC divisional loss to the Giants. The quarterback has to make the right decision. There were a handful of plays that were similar to the Giants play during the season. Almost every time, Brady was fine with exposing Welker to contact and throwing towards a charging safety. We’ll detail those tomorrow.

In closing, it would be foolish to paint Welker as some sort of goat. Brady could have zipped the pass in toward the safety and over Welker’s inside shoulder in stride and connected on perhaps a touchdown.

Instead, Brady lollipopped the throw to the backshoulder while his receiver was in a sprint and made the pass unnecessarily difficult.

Brady should have thrown to Welker’s strength – something he had done all season up until that point.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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