Week 12 Risers and Fallers: Welker and Branch a nightmare for the Dream Team

A month ago, Julian Edelman looked like a man without a job.

On Sunday, he was the employee of the month.

The former college quarterback who went undrafted out of Kent State has evolved into Bill Belichick’s newest version of Troy Brown.

The speedy, long-haired slot receiver/punt returner has filled in for an injury-depleted secondary as the dime back and has not embarrassed himself.

In fact, his versatility has led teammate James Ihedigbo to nickname him “Slash.”

While he didn’t catch any passes in the Patriots’ 38-20 blowout over the Eagles, Edelman was part of a strong wide receiver group that torched the talented, but underachieving “Dream Team.”

Let’s take a look at this week’s risers and fallers.

Risers

1. Wes Welker/Deion Branch: Standing a generous 5-foot-9, the veteran starting duo was largely shut out last week against Kansas City. Yesterday, the sure-handed and ultra-reliable pair torched Nnamdi Asomugha and co. to the tune of 14 catches for 240 yards and two touchdowns. While Welker and Branch are known as quicker receivers who lack deep speed, they shed that label with two explosive plays. Welker got behind safety Kurt Coleman who bit on the play action fake for a 41-yard TD, and Branch nearly scored on a 63-yard pass play where Tom Brady pointed his way and Branch altered his route.

2. Tom Brady: After a rough three-game stretch, the 2010 MVP has responded with a streak of stellar performances. Although he started off slow behind some shaky protection and early drops, Brady rebounded for perhaps his most dominant day since Week One against Miami. Number 12 averaged a ridiculous 10.62 yards per attempt and completed 70.6 percent of his 34 attempts, posting his highest passer rating since week two. Safe to say, the kid is back.

3. Rob Ninkovich: I like to think of him as Mike Vrable 2.0. He doesn’t post the gaudy sack numbers that Vrable did, but he is smart, tough and consistent. Ninko only registered three tackles, but he was disruptive in the backfield. He recorded another sack, two tackles for loss and another QB hit. He was part of a unit that held LeSean McCoy, the league’s leading rusher, to a mere 61 total yards.

4. Julian Edelman: Whether it’s in the return game, in the slot or defending the pass, Edelman continues to prove his worth. The 5-foot-10, 198-pound jitterbug took down the 6-foot-5, 232-pound Vince Young short of the goal line as part of his three-tackle effort. His quickness and toughness are much needed assets on the defense and he is still a threat in the return game.

 

Fallers

1. Backup receivers: With Chad Ochocinco inactive, fans and analysts alike were hoping to see Taylor Price get some action. The team’s third-round pick in 2010 finished the game where he started: on the bench. Instead, recently signed Tiquan Underwood played 19 forgettable snaps where he showed his signature stone hands on a horrendous drop that would have gone for a touchdown. The team needs someone reliable behind Welker/Branch, and it’s about time one of these guys steps up.

2. Pass defense: Forget the yardage totals. Forget that Vince Young finished with 400 yards and a touchdown. The fact remains the Patriots did a pretty decent job for most of the game in containing the Eagles offense. However, the first quarter showed that this secondary can be exposed, and if Vince Young can do that, imagine what Ben Roethlisberger or Joe Flacco can do come playoff time. There seemed to be some miscommunication early on between Sterling Moore and Antwuan Molden and receivers were getting behind the DBs too often. While there were definitely some positive moments (Molden’s interception and Arrington’s big hit), there’s still work to be done.

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