As per several reports, the New England Patriots’ wide receiver Julian Edelman and cornerback Kyle Arrington opted not to join the team on their trip to New Jersey for their highly anticipated divisional match against their archrivals, the New York Jets.
While injuries are a common occurrence in the NFL, the late-breaking news about Tom Brady’s primary target adds an intriguing layer to this game.
The most pressing question now facing the New England Patriots is evident:
How will the Patriots’ offensive strategy evolve in the absence of Julian Edelman?
Given Edelman’s exceptionally diverse role within the New England offense, predicting precisely how the Patriots will compensate for his absence remains a puzzle. Interestingly, the Jets find themselves in a similar position, unsure of what to expect from the Patriots.
Julian Edelman, with his 92 receptions for 978 yards and four touchdowns, stands as the leading wide receiver for the Patriots.
He has been the target of an average of 11 passes per game in the past six weeks, two more targets per game during that period than their star tight end, Rob Gronkowski.
Clearly, the Patriots will need to adjust their approach against the Jets. After an entire season of witnessing Edelman’s multifaceted role in the offense, it is highly improbable that a single player will seamlessly step in and replicate his contributions.
The Patriots stock their roster with versatile people who can do a number of things well, meaning opponents don’t have easy answers when things like this happen.
I’d be happy to rephrase this passage for you while maintaining the same message:
It might be surprising for many, but Julian Edelman defies the “slot receiver” stereotype, which often pigeonholes white receivers under six feet tall who excel at catching passes in the NFL.
Edelman’s versatility shines through as he lines up in various positions within New England’s offensive formations.
He can be found on the inside and outside, shifting to close or wide positions, moving across the ball, extending to the backside, occupying multiple locations in a bunch formation, leading stacked receivers, or playing off-man in stacked receiver sets.
His role is incredibly diverse, making it a constant challenge for defenses to track and account for him on every play.
Despite the lack of recognition in last year’s free agency, Edelman is the kind of multifaceted weapon that every NFL offense should covet.
The graphic below illustrates twenty distinct instances of Edelman’s roles and positions from last week’s game against the Dolphins, all within the first half alone.
To the casual observer, it might appear as a complex mosaic of movement, and that’s perfectly fine. The element of confusion is a significant part of his wide-ranging responsibilities, and even professional defenders can find it bewildering.
From now on, whenever you hear Edelman unfairly reduced to a heartwarming, underdog story of a former quarterback turned slot receiver, you’ll have a more accurate perspective. He’s an NFL wide receiver, and he excels in this role.
Acknowledging the extensive role that Julian Edelman plays, the challenge now lies in deciphering the Patriots’ plan in his absence.
While it’s reasonable to expect Danny Amendola to take on greater responsibilities, entirely replicating Edelman’s role becomes less sensible upon closer examination. Danny and Julian have already shared the field frequently.
The graphic above illustrates various instances where Amendola occupied a more traditional slot position while Edelman assumed a different role.
It seems unlikely that Amendola would transition from this slot role to Edelman’s more versatile duties.
This doesn’t rule out the possibility of Danny receiving more targets, but stepping into all of Edelman’s roles seems virtually impossible and doesn’t align with Amendola’s skill set.
A simple one-for-one swap of Danny for Julian may not be the solution, or at the very least, it could create new challenges.
Instead, the Patriots may opt to deploy Brian Tymes, Tim Wright, and Shane Vereen in a collaborative effort to handle different aspects of the extended wide receiver role that Edelman fulfilled.
When Edelman did play in the slot or as an inside-move receiver, Amendola could potentially fill in.
These strategies aim to replace Edelman’s role, but the Patriots might consider entirely different personnel groupings, such as employing more two or three tight end sets or possibly using two-back sets with Vereen and Jonas Gray together, especially with LeGarrette Blount sidelined due to a shoulder injury.
They could even introduce the element of a fullback (James Develin) alongside the two additional backs.
It’s natural to assume that Rob Gronkowski will become a focal point in the offense, but the Jets will anticipate this and adjust their defensive scheme accordingly.
Gronk often receives double-digit targets regardless, so relying solely on Gronkowski to compensate for Edelman’s absence isn’t a complete solution.
One alternative is to place more emphasis on the running game. At first glance, this might appear risky, considering the Jets rank 4th in rushing yards allowed per game. However, this statistic can be misleading.
It’s unclear whether the Jets excel in stopping the run because teams perceive vulnerabilities in their pass defense and choose to focus there.
The Patriots will need to assess from game footage, rather than rankings, whether it makes sense to center more of their offensive strategy on the ground – a consideration that might apply with or without Julian Edelman or LeGarrette Blount.
When it comes to stats and rankings, they should be trusted only to a limited extent.
Indeed, this analysis remains a speculative exercise. The true picture will only emerge when the Patriots take the field for their first series, and even then, it might not become entirely clear until halftime or later.
This scenario highlights the guessing game that likely unfolds within Rex Ryan and the Jets’ defensive staff as they attempt to anticipate how the New England approach might evolve in response to the unexpected news that emerged late Saturday afternoon.
I share your sentiment that the strategic aspect of football adds an intriguing and enjoyable dimension to the game.
While other teams might have more straightforward solutions in the absence of their top wide receiver, the New England Patriots operate differently.
They prioritize versatile players who can excel in various roles, making it challenging for opponents to predict their response in such situations.
The Patriots’ approach is designed to keep rolling smoothly or make a sudden, unpredictable shift. It’s intentionally shrouded in mystery.
With this possibly being Rex Ryan’s final showdown against the New England Patriots as the head coach of the New York Jets, it adds an extra layer of intrigue.
Rex will be playing a guessing game until the game kicks off, as the Patriots won’t reveal their hand.
While the Patriots won’t be stronger without Edelman, they will certainly be different. And different is difficult to prepare for on short notice, even for a sharp defensive mind like Rex.
Is Julian’s absence an advantage for the Jets, or could it be something the Patriots can exploit by veering in a direction the Jets couldn’t have anticipated? The answer will become clear on the field.
Undoubtedly, this Patriots-Jets matchup has become even more compelling with the uncertainty surrounding Edelman’s absence.