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Wes Welker Re-Emerges as a Peyton Manning Favorite in Season's Final Stretch

Cecil Lammey@@cecillammeyContributor IDecember 9, 2014

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 7:  Wide receiver Wes Welker #83 of the Denver Broncos returns a punt against the Buffalo Bills at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 7, 2014 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Wes Welker has had an interesting 2014 season. He began the season suspended four games for violating the league’s performance enhancing drug policy. That suspension was later reduced to two games, and Welker returned to the same pass-happy offense that scored over 600 points in 2013.

In his first two games of the season, Welker was targeted 18 times and hauled in 13 of those passes. It looked like Welker was picking up where he left off as an integral part of the passing game.

Wes Welker 2014 Stats
WeekRoutes RunTargetsReceptionsYards
3-5751813118
6-911614994
10-141792319164
ESPN Stats & Inc.

However, a few weeks after returning, Welker’s role was reduced as the team looked to be more of a run-heavy team.

Then in another twist, Welker has been targeted more in recent weeks. Welker is getting more involved as defenses adjust to the Broncos' new run-heavy philosophy.

Welker has re-emerged as a favorite target of Peyton Manning as the Broncos make the stretch run to the playoffs. Here's a look at why that has happened.

Injuries Create Opportunities

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 7:  Cornerback Stephon Gilmore #24 of the Buffalo Bills intercepts a pass intended for wide receiver Demaryius Thomas #88 of the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 7, 2014 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo b
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Both Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas were slowed down by ankle injuries in the Week 14 game against the Buffalo Bills. These injuries opened up the door for Welker to be used more.

Demaryius Thomas injured his ankle during the week of practice. He was able to play, but he had to play through pain. He finished the game with only two catches for 11 yards.

Julius Thomas was active for the first time in two weeks. His ankle injury was good enough for him to get a jersey, but he only ran one route against the Bills.

Broncos head coach John Fox commented on why the talented tight end wasn’t used more against the Bills.

“I think he got a week better. He’s healing, he was close. We went with having him active but not the full intention of playing him. If we needed him we could have [played him].” Fox concluded, “I think he’s taken a step in the right direction and we’re going to need him moving forward.”

In Week 14, Welker led the team in receiving with six catches for 82 yards. While both Thomases were banged up, Welker came through in key situations for the Broncos.

Manning was complimentary of Welker’s performance against the Bills.

“Wes played well. I thought his little scene route down the middle really jumped started us. Real pleased with Wes. He’s played hard all year. I know all those guys really want their number to be called every single play but it doesn’t always happen that way.” Manning explained, “This was not a good game for the receivers to have a lot of big numbers. Wes played well and helped us get this victory today.”

Does it Continue?

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 7:  Wide receiver Wes Welker #83 of the Denver Broncos makes a catch for a first down as free safety Aaron Williams #23 of the Buffalo Bills and Da'Norris Searcy #25 defend during the first quarter at Sports Authority Field Field at
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

The Broncos have transformed into a ground-and-pound running team over the last few weeks. The chances that Manning is going to throw 50 passes (even 40) per week are slim so long as the rushing attack is working. This means the passing game needs to be as efficient as possible.

However, Fox warned, the team could flip the switch into pass-happy mode at any time.

“You never know, we might put our foot on the gas and throw it 50 times. I can’t really predict what’s going to happen because a lot of it’s based on what an opponent does and matchups.”

Welker’s game is all about efficiency. As defenses adjust to stop the run, the Broncos can use Welker on short targets that serve as long hand offs. These are high percentage throws that Manning can make with ease—even in bad weather.

The Broncos should be running the ball more. They can impose their will on an opponent and grind down defenses as the game goes on.

They should also be using Welker more during this run to—and through—the playoffs.

All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos unless otherwise noted. Contract and salary-cap information provided by Spotrac.com. Transaction history provided by ProSportsTransactions.com.

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