Every week, I hope to bring you a quick Q&A with someone who covers the Ravens’ opponent that week. On Sunday night, the Ravens host the New England Patriots in a rematch of the AFC championship game. Since it’s such a big game for both teams, let’s go with double coverage this week. I chatted with Shalise Manza Young of The Boston Globe and Jeff Howe of The Boston Herald about a few hot topics entering Sunday night's game.
MV: What is going on with Wes Welker? Julian Edelman replaced him in the starting lineup, but Welker ended up playing a lot after Aaron Hernandez injured his ankle early. Is Welker really being phased out?
SMY: There are a lot of theories about what's going on with Welker, ranging from plausible to ridiculous. Edelman did have a strong camp and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him on the field more -- but he has been on the field at the expense of Welker, which is the surprising part. Welker is not injured, so that is not playing a role. Even he seems to not be sure exactly what is going on -- you would think that if the Patriots were simply trying to keep him on a pitch count for the early part of the season to keep him fresh for the latter half of the regular season and playoffs that they would have told him that, and to my knowledge they haven't. Since he played in nearly 90 percent of the offensive snaps last season, that could be it. Could the Patriots be testing Edelman to see if he'll be a viable replacement next season if they cut ties with Welker? Possible. It's even possible -- though it would be sinister -- if they were deliberately keeping his numbers low to hurt his value on the open market. That also would go against Bill Belichick's mantra of always doing what's best for the team, and playing Welker is what's best for the team. With Hernandez on the shelf, and the offense now needing Welker, we may not know how much longer they would have kept his snaps down.
JH: It's one of the strangest storylines surrounding this team in recent memory. There are plenty of theories and few answers, if any. Is it a punishment for the contract negotiations? Are they trying to reduce his value for next season? Are they trying to trade him? Are they phasing him out, or preparing for life without him after this season? Really, who knows? Edelman hasn't beaten him out, and he's not a better run blocker, so those theories are weak. And it would go against everything Bill Belichick preaches to think he'd keep him off the field due to spite over the contract struggle. It really might be an experiment to see how much they've really got with Edelman. But even still, that's a dangerous line to walk, and Belichick further opens himself to criticism when Welker isn't on the field for the start of a game that turned into a surprising loss.
MV: What did the Arizona Cardinals do for the first three quarters of last weekend’s game that stalled Tom Brady and the Patriots offense, and why wasn't Rob Gronkowski more involved until the final quarter?
JH: It was simple and all-encompassing. The Patriots' offensive line couldn't block anyone, and Brady was uncomfortable all game. Brady only got into a rhythm in the fourth quarter when he used quick drops and passes. Even some of those plays were contested. The offensive line is a major issue with this team.
SMY: The Cardinals did just what Belichick said they would do, starting with being disruptive on the defensive line. Darnell Dockett got a hand on Tom Brady's first pass attempt, and Patrick Peterson made an acrobatic interception; Dockett in particular also took advantage of backup right guard Donald Thomas. Not sure what happened with Gronkowski. Taking nothing away from the Cardinals' performance, there was also some questionable offensive play-calling in the game from Josh McDaniels, and the Patriots didn't really use the no-huddle, which has been highly effective in recent years, until they were down by eight points well into the fourth quarter.
MV: Rookie defensive end Chandler Jones really stood out in the Cardinals game. There is some local interest in Chandler because his brother, Art, plays for the Ravens. I actually did a feature on their family back in January and Chandler told me the NFL advisory board told him he would likely be a third-round draft pick. Are you surprised he has been this good this quickly, and what does he do well in particular?