Commentary

Wes Welker the X-factor against Jets

Patriots receiver could be key to New England defeating its New York rival

Updated: September 17, 2010, 12:46 PM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Maybe all the talk about the one-on-one matchup between New England Patriots receiver Randy Moss and New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis is misguided. A strong case could be made that it's Wes Welker who should be drawing more pregame attention.

[+] EnlargeWes Welker
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonThe Jets had trouble with Wes Welker last season: The WR made 15 catches for 192 yards.

After all, it was Welker who sliced up the Jets the last time the teams met, with 15 receptions for 192 yards, both career highs.

And the last time the Jets beat the Patriots, in September of 2009, Welker didn't play because of a knee injury.

Call it the "Welker Factor," and it's something that is clearly on the mind of Jets coach Rex Ryan, who labeled Welker a "matchup nightmare" earlier this week.

When asked what he learned from Welker's 15-catch performance last season, Ryan was quick with the response: Not to let it happen again.

How the Jets attempt to do so will be closely watched because everything they tried against Welker last year didn't work.

"Sometimes you have one of those days, and that was one of those days where I was able to get in a zone and make some plays," Welker said of his 15-catch effort. "I'm sure they're going to be coming up with something to try to take that away this time around. You have to be ready for everything."

One possibility is the Jets putting Revis on Welker, with Antonio Cromartie shadowing Moss. Considering that Moss was held to four catches for 44 yards in his past two games against Cromartie, when Cromartie was with the Chargers, it's not a far-fetched thought.

Part of what makes Welker such an important part of the Patriots' plan is that he is often the first option Brady targets against the blitz, and no team blitzes more than the Jets. Welker has been preparing himself this week for whatever the Jets have in store for him.

"If they do want to take me away, some of the other guys are going to have to step up and eat a little bit," he said. "That's what it comes down to. At the same time, no matter what they do, I have to work at getting open and doing my job."

Welker wasn't a worry for the Jets last September when they recorded a 16-9 win over the Patriots in the second game of the season. That was the day the Patriots lined up for all but one play in their three-receiver package with Moss, Joey Galloway and Julian Edelman, spreading the field on every snap and inviting the Jets to pressure.

The lack of offensive variation was surprising from a team that prides itself on shuttling different packages onto the field. The Jets pummeled Brady that day, hitting him six times and rushing him on several throws as they focused on taking away New England's outside receivers.

Maybe the biggest lesson learned from a Patriots perspective was the importance of not just the pass protection, but what happens when the quarterback and his pass-catchers aren't consistently operating off the same script.

Against the Jets' pressure, routes have to be adjusted on the fly, and that's a Welker specialty. Quarterbacks often look to the receivers they trust most in the face of pressure, which is why Brady so often is feeding Welker in those situations.

The Patriots were also 0-for-3 in the red zone that day, a reminder that they moved the ball but couldn't cash in once crossing the Jets' 20-yard line. That was another area in which Welker delivered for the Patriots in Sunday's season opener, with touchdown catches of 9 and 4 yards.

Welker hopes the Patriots can play with the same energy they did in Week 1 because he knows the Jets will be prepared.

"They're physical, they're tough and they come after you in a very aggressive style," he said. "You have to make sure you're ready to play from the get-go."

Unlike last September, Welker will be ready for this trip to the Meadowlands.

So for all the talk about the anticipated Moss-Revis battle, which would surely be filled with intrigue, Welker's impact is arguably as important, if not more.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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