With Julian Edelman and Aaron Hernandez out of the lineup against the Buffalo Bills in Week 4, Tom Brady had to deal with throwing the ball to the likes of Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski. Surprisingly, the trade-off worked out well for the New England Patriots on their way to 333 yards through the air and 52 points on the scoreboard.
Welker and Gronkowski's lack of involvement in the first three weeks was the topic of much discussion, but after this week, it appears that the Patriots will be going back to their old ways. Of Brady's 36 pass attempts on Sunday, the two All-Pro players were targeted a combined 22 times, according to KFFL's utilization numbers.
Welker has actually been one of the most involved players all season. Besides Week 1, Welker has been targeted at least 10 times in each of the last three weeks, with 11 targets coming his way this week. His 25 catches tie him for first on the team with Brandon Lloyd, and his 37 targets are second only to Lloyd.
Gronkowski, on the other hand, has been less involved in the offense and it shows in the numbers. While his targets through four games (27) is just one less than the same number through four games last season, the numbers have been more inconsistent. After target numbers of six, nine and three in the first three weeks, Gronk was targeted 11 times on Sunday with five catches and a touchdown.
Also worth noting is that Lloyd's targets took a bit of step back on Sunday. After a combined 25 targets led to 17 catches over the past two games, Brady clearly got away from Lloyd a bit with just seven targets on Sunday. The decline seems to be warranted, though, as Lloyd caught just three of those passes with one being a nice, diving touchdown catch.
It is clear that the Patriots have a wealth of passing options but it seems that Brady is most comfortable when the decision of who to throw to comes down to two All-Pros and a developing favorite on the outside. It will be worth keeping an eye on the distribution as the season progresses and Edelman and Hernandez return to the lineup.