A lot has been made of how opposing defenses have been able to either slow down or completely eliminate Wes Welker from the Patriots offense. It's no secret that Welker is one of the most important pieces of the Patriots offense and, when he's stalled, the offense tends to slow down. Welker is a quick outlet player for Tom Brady, which allows him to quickly take advantage of large cushions by the defensive backs. During the Patriots vs Jets game, I saw all of the typical defenses against Welker take place on a single drive, and I thought you might be interested in seeing how teams line up to stop Welker.
1. Leave other players open:
On this play, the Jets are clever in their coverage. The teams are coming off a Jets time out and have had time to organize their players. Wes Welker is across from Darrelle Revis, who is in prime position to jam Welker as soon as the ball in snapped. They disguise their coverage by placing nickelback Kyle Wilson and CB Antonio Cromartie in double coverage on Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, leaving Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch absurdly open for the quick snap pass. Brady sees this opening out of the huddle, quickly taps Dan Connolly for the snap and picks up an easy 20 yards.
It's clear the Jets won this match-up against Welker. He did not manage to catch the ball and the Jets coverage definitely confused everyone on the field. Oh- the defense was confused? My fault. Still, the Jets defense found a way to stop Welker- he will not catch the ball if some other Patriots receiver is exceptionally open.
2. Hope for a bad pass:
The next play of the drive, the Patriots fake a play-action end-around and the Jets bite on the hand-off. They send seven into run defense to stop running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, leaving Welker open as he crosses the field. Brady stands in the pocket with plenty of time and space, and just misses Welker. You can see Jets NT Sione Pouha (#91) in coverage with a 7 yard cushion around the 40 yard line. Had the ball been thrown with better placement, Welker would have torn up the field for a large gain. However, Brady threw a bad pass ahead of Welker and Wes could not make the play.
Here, the Jets allow Brady to stop the Patriots offense as Brady has the tendency to, every so often, throw just an inch or two higher than his sub-6 foot tall receivers can reach. I hope other teams follow the Jets game plan and bank on Brady to mess up more often.
3. Bracket Zone:
This is actually a real defense. The Patriots are on second down and are coming out of their own time out. The Patriots pass protection is great, but it's clear that the Jets pass rusher up the gut will be reaching for Brady in only a couple seconds. The Jets give Welker a free release, but decide to bracket him to deter a pass in his direction. Welker operates best with wiggle room in order to pick up yards after the catch and he gets that wiggle room by making a cut in or out. By bracketing him at all levels of the field, the Jets effectively remove his space to make a cut and eliminate the desire to pass to Welker.
Of course, this style of defense (designating effectively three players to watch Welker) will inevitably mirror Style #1 of leaving a player wide open. On this play, as the cornerback shadowing Branch cheats towards Welker to help bracket, Branch is able to slip outside with minimal coverage. Luckily for the Jets, their Style #2 comes into play and Brady throws the ball into the dirt by Branch's feet.
I would also like to note that Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski had just broken free of his coverage up the seam and was wide open- as was fellow Patriots tight end Nate Solder on an out route. Of course, throwing to the #3 tight end just would have been silly.
4. Jam at the Line:
The most effective method of removing Welker is jamming him at the line. This is a direct engagement that prevents Welker from using his agility to make a quick cut and get free. Darrelle Revis does a great job of jamming Welker and removing the quick outlet pass. As this is third down, the Jets bring five to rush Brady, with the sixth standing guard over the outlet Danny Woodhead. The Patriots protection holds, but Brady does not see anyone open and launches a desperation pass into triple coverage in the end zone towards Deion Branch.
Normally, Branch has a very good chance of winning those jump balls, but today was not his day and the ball was knocked to the ground.
Oh, and Welker managed to shake Revis and get open later on the play, but Brady most likely assumed that Welker was still occupied by Revis. That's what jamming Welker at the line does, though- it makes Brady forget about Welker and the fact that he may actually get open as the play develops.
NBC showed the reverse angle of the snap and we were able to see how well Revis covered Welker in order to deter Brady from even looking in his direction the rest of the play:
Oh. In that case, screw your styles of defense. If you want to stop Welker, just grab him.