Will Wes Welker get the record?
According to Kareem Copeland of NFL.com:
The New England Patriots wide receiver is eight catches shy of 100 for the season, which would make him the first player in the NFL to post five 100-catch seasons. Welker would break a tie with Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison.
For starters, that's quite a bit of company to be in. After all, Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison are among the best receivers of their respective eras, as well as all time.
In short, Welker is already among the best receivers of his era, so snagging this record simply enhances his impact since joining the Pats in 2007. His legacy is already at a level where other slot receivers are compared to him.
Therefore, he is the standard.
That said, it's inevitable that Welker will get this record before the 2012 regular season closes out, mainly because he leads New England in yards (1,064), targets (133) and receptions (92).
Nevertheless, setting the record on Monday Night Football against one of the NFL's best defenses in the Houston Texans would be impressive. The Pats are also still jousting with the Texans each week in the race to the AFC's No. 1 seed.
Must Find Success on the Ground
For as vulnerable as the Texans can be against the pass, New England running the ball and maintaining balance is the key to winning. A byproduct of enjoying success in the trenches and winning the possession battle, however, is Welker getting the record.
Interestingly enough, Houston allows an average of 4.1 yards per carry but gives up only 87.6 yards per game on the ground, so that is a bit deceiving.
To that end, expect the Pats to run for balance and efficiency. After all, Stevan Ridley averages 4.5 per carry, and Brandon Bolden gets 5.4.
That kind of effectiveness will be of great impact against Houston because it simply draws up an extra defender while also setting up the play-action pass. From there, Brady goes deep.
Stretch the Field Early
Draw the Texans in and then stretch them back out.
This is the most basic of formulas when facing a stout defense. Once again, though, Welker's production becomes the beneficiary as the game progresses.
Even though New England doesn't possess that extreme deep threat such as Randy Moss, that has never stopped Brady from going downfield. Whether it's Brandon Lloyd, Aaron Hernandez or Welker, anticipate more than a few launches to keep Houston off-balance.
Additionally, running the ball and then going deep will prevent J.J. Watt from consistent opportunities to bat passes down. Getting him to focus on the run and applying quarterback pressure will allow Brady's receivers to make plays with reduced odds of a deflection.
What must the Pats do to set up Welker for the record?
The end result of challenging Houston deep and refusing to abandon the run are Welker's numbers.
Welker's Potential Impact
Despite Welker's ability to constantly defeat man-coverage situations and accumulate yards after the catch, none of that is possible without a rushing attack or Brady stretching the field.
As a receiver who finds open space at the intermediate level, that's quite difficult when defenses gear coverage schemes to isolate Welker. Expect Houston to run more Cover 2 with the linebackers shelling underneath, because blanketing Brady's favorite target must force others to step up.
What does Welker think about setting the record? According to an article by Howard Ulman of the Associated Press, via NewburyportNews.com:
Is he looking forward to it? Is he excited for it? Does he even care?
“Maybe when I’m done playing,” Welker said Friday. “But right now, I’m just focused on however many catches I need to get to help us win."
Well, after the running game becomes established and chances are taken deep, that's when Welker takes over. For one, New England's offense is too explosive to be completely stopped.
Second, remaining one-dimensional against a tough defense provides Houston with a competitive advantage. Last, the Pats must anticipate Welker getting blanketed early on, as he is their best receiving weapon.
Not to mention, Houston pressing him at the line and bracketing with an extra defensive back is to be expected. Because of the aforementioned rushing offense and Brady spreading the field, though, Welker's impact gets felt as the game wears on.
Only then will the record get set, as New England coming out victorious must be the first priority.
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