When Julian Edelman went down with a foot injury early in the Patriots' week 10 game against the New York Giants, quarterback Tom Brady lost his most trusted wide receiver; his go-to guy. Luckily, Edelman's injury wasn't season-ending and allowed the 29-year old to return in time for New England's divisional playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Prior to the game, the one question about Edelman's return was whether or not the injury and his subsequent absence would have a negative impact on his performance. It didn't take long for him to answer the question as Edelman converted on a 3rd and 10 on the Patriots' first possession.
It was the first of 11 touches of Edelman's return to action. Let's take a look at four key plays of said return.
1) 3-10-NE 20 (14:29) (Shotgun) 12-T.Brady pass short left to 11-J.Edelman to NE 31 for 11 yards (55-D.Ford).
Brady and Edelman went to work early, as New England's quarterback targeted his favorite weapon four times on the Patriots' opening possession. While two of those passes fell incomplete (one was thrown behind, the other dropped), the other two went for first down.
The first of those two catches came in a 3rd and 10 situation. New England had 11 personnel on the field and lined up wide receivers Brandon LaFell (19), Danny Amendola (80) and Julian Edelman (11) on the left side of the formation:
Kansas City used a disguised four-man rush, overloading the right side of New England's offensive line. Safety Tyvon Branch (27) was able to get through the B-gap and close to Brady. However, by the time the defender was in the backfield, the pass was delivered: from snap to release it took only two seconds to get the ball to a pass catcher. That pass catcher was Julian Edelman, who ran a simple out route seven yards deep:
On the play, Edelman was able to find a soft spot between defenders Dee Ford (55) and Ron Parker (38) and hauled in the pass for an 11-yard gain, smartly turning around quickly in order to reach the first down marker. Not only did the receiver run a perfect route, he also displayed his ability to quickly change direction while doing so – a good early sign when it comes to the progress of Edelman's broken foot and the wideout's confidence in pushing off of it.
2) 2-8-NE 34 (:07) 12-T.Brady pass incomplete short left to 11-J.Edelman.
Not all was perfect for Edelman, as the receiver struggled with drops early in the game. The most dangerous one came late in the first quarter, with the Patriots in a 2nd and 8 situation. The offense used trips to the right, with Edelman as the lone receiver to the left. Brady lined up under center with running back Steven Jackson (39) behind him:
Brady faked the hand-off while Edelman released to the inside, only to quickly cut towards the boundary to shake off Sean Smith (21) – the same route that he ran on the game-winning touchdown pass of last year's Super Bowl:
Until this point, the play was well executed by the entire offense (the play-fake was sold, the offensive line won at the point of attack). However, Edelman was unable to hold onto the perfectly placed football as he turned his head early. Luckily for the receiver, the bouncing ball was not intercepted by Peters, who probably would have been able to return it for a touchdown.
While Edelman finished the game with three drops, they did not look like the result of rust or injury, but of concentration and sloppy technique.
3) 1-10-NE 2 (8:59) (Shotgun) 12-T.Brady pass short middle to 11-J.Edelman to NE 14 for 12 yards (27-T.Branch)
Midway through the second quarter, and with the Patriots starting on their own 2-yard line, Edelman once again displayed his trademark on-the-line shiftiness. By that time, Brady had already targeted the receiver eight times (three catches, five incompletions) and despite three drops was showing that Edelman was his favorite target.
New England's offense aligned in an empty 2x3 set with 11 personnel on the field and Edelman on the right side of the formation between tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) and running back James White (28):
The Chiefs countered with a cover 3 single-high safety look that left Edelman one-on-one with strong safety Tyvon Branch. The defender lined up close to the line of scrimmage, in order to jam the receiver and potentially throw the timing off. However, Branch was unable to get his hands on Edelman, who used a stutter step to force the defensive back to play hesitant – and trail from the get-go:
Due to his quickness in performing the stutter step, Edelman was able to gain inside leverage and separation. Branch could not catch up with the receiver until after he had caught the ball for a first down.
On this play, as he did all game long, Edelman showed his willingness to test and stress his injured foot. Because he ran a shallow crossing route from the right side to the left, he had to push off of his right foot. On film, there were no visible limitations or hesitation while doing so – the quickness, shiftiness and footwork still look like they did prior to Edelman's injury: top notch.
4) 1-10-NE 49 (10:09) (No Huddle) 11-J.Edelman left end to KC 40 for 11 yards (38-R.Parker). Reverse.
Given that he missed the Patriots' last seven games, it would not have been a surprise to see Edelman eased back into the mix. Yet, he still played 51 of 58 snaps and was used in a variety of roles – a testament to his physical and mental readiness. One play that illustrates this readiness came in the third quarter.
The Patriots, once again, used 11 personnel with LaFell and Amendola in a slot formation on the left side of the formation and Gronkowski and Edelman close to its right side:
After the snap, Brady faked a hand-off to running back James White, before giving the ball to Edelman on the reverse. With Gronkowksi, who also crossed the formation, as a lead-blocker, the receiver was able to pick up a first down (one of eight, Edelman gained during the game):
The match-ups were favorable for the Patriots and Edelman could have gained more yards on the play, had Amendola been able to sustain his block on Ron Parker. He didn't, though, and the runner was stopped after 11 yards. Still, the play shows that not only does offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels want to re-integrate Edelman quickly, but that the receiver himself is ready to do what is asked of him.
The return of Julian Edelman helped the offense immensely, as his mere presence puts more stress on a defense. Since Kansas City often doubled Rob Gronkowski, Edelman was left in single coverage (or vice versa; see Gronkowski's first touchdown catch). The receiver made the most of his opportunities, catching 10 passes for 100 yards.
While not all was perfect (i.e. dropped passes), Edelman's return to the field was a successful one – not only because of his stats and New England's 27-20 victory: the receiver performed without visible limitations. Furthermore, he showed what makes him such an able and dangerous weapon. He was shifty, played sound technique and was able to gain quick separation on slants, ins and crossers – just like he did prior to his week 10 injury.
Given the Patriots' gameplan, which aimed at attacking the Chiefs by using horizontal patterns, Edelman's readiness was a key for the offense. New England now hopes that the 29-year old can continue his strong play against a very talented Denver Broncos defense, which possibly will be attacked similarly to how the Patriots attacked the Chiefs on Saturday.