When Julian Edelman was lost for the season the first question on my mind was who was going to make the tough catches on third down. Brady had grown to depend on Edelman in the toughest spots. From 2013-2016, Edelman had 135 targets on third down, 40 more than second-place Rob Gronkowski.
If there was a player for defenses to key off of on third down, it was clearly Edelman. But now, without Edelman, the Patriots are spreading the ball around, with Brady becoming reacquainted with the days when his favorite receiver wasn’t Edelman or even Wes Welker, it was the open one.
Now the Patriots have a balanced third-down attack that has seen little regression from where things left off in 2016 with Edelman still tearing up the field.
Here’s how the 2016 season looked for third down targets.
Now here’s how it’s shaping up in 2017.
The balance of 2017, with five receivers all within six targets of each other, compared to much they looked to Edelman in 2016.
I found Brandin Cooks catch percentage to be notable, with just five catches on 17 targets.
Also worth noting how the catch percentage overall is slightly down as a result of it, showing they haven’t quite entirely replaced Edelman. Statistically the Patriots offense has seen almost no drop-off. They converted at a clip of 45.8 percent in 2016 (4th overall) and have slipped to just 45.1 percent in 2017 (4th).
The amorphous receiving threats, paired with Dion Lewis and the run game, have given the Patriots their most balanced offensive attack since at least 2007. It’s a nice reminder of how effective it can be when you don’t lean heavily on one player in key situations.