TE Hernandez adds key component to Patriots' offensive mix
The Patriots offense has been the best the NFL has
to offer through the first five weeks of the 2011 season. Obviously the
main reason for that is Tom Brady. Not far behind -- the ridiculous
start by wide receiver Wes Welker.
But one important aspect of the offense was absent
for a couple weeks. Maybe not surprisingly that stretch included
Brady's worst game of the season and the team's only loss to date.
With tight end Aaron Hernandez sidelined for New
England's trips to Buffalo and Oakland with a left knee injury, Brady
became more dependent on Welker as the passing attack became a bit more
predictable and one-dimensional. Over that two-game stretch more than
half of Brady's total completions in each contest went to Welker. Brady
threw four interceptions in the loss to the Bills, and had his two
worst games of the year in terms of passer rating and completion
Make no mistake, New England's offense was very
good even without Hernandez, but it's much more difficult with the
versatile second-year tight end back in the lineup as he was in
Sunday's win over the Jets.
Sporting a bulky brace on his left knee against
New York, Hernandez returned with five receptions for 56 yards. Brady
threw in his direction (nine targets) more often than any other
receiver, including a couple just-miss deep balls early in the game.
"Aaron has really worked hard the last couple of
weeks to get back out there," Bill Belichick said after the Patriots
30-21 victory over the Jets. "He's in here early, he stays late; he's
leaving when the coaches are leaving. He's getting a lot of extra
treatment. He was able to come out and practice later on in the week
and handle a little more each day and kept getting better, so we felt
confident going into the game -- and he felt confident going into the
game. Again, he got behind the defense a couple times, so he obviously
got his speed back. I thought he had a good couples days of practice at
the end of the week and was able to carry it over into the game. He's a
tough guy to match up against. He's a good player."
As Belichick referenced, Hernandez is a very
difficult matchup for opposing defenses.
The 6-1, 245-pound tight end is generally used as
a slot receiver in New England's spread formation. But he also gets
reps as an in-line tight end as well as in the backfield or as a motion
Despite sitting out the two weeks with the injury,
Hernandez ranks fourth on New England with 19 catches for 221 yards and
a pair of scores. Beyond the simple production, he adds another weapon
to the mix, thus forcing opposing defenses to be spread even thinner.
Though Welker -- who leads the NFL with 45 catches
through five games -- had a season-low five receptions against the
Jets, he averaged 24.8 yards a catch thanks in large part to a 73-yard
"Aaron is such a great player, anytime you can get
more weapons out there on the field and more places that we can go with
the ball, it's always going to help us out," Welker said. "It's always
great to get those weapons out there."
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