Once a week throughout the 2013 season, we will focus upon on a player or matchup that could prove troublesome for the Giants in their upcoming game. This week, we’ll take a closer look at Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker.
Of Wes Welker’s nine catches in his debut with the Broncos on Thursday night, three were on third downs to keep a drive alive, and two ended drives with touchdowns in Denver’s 49-27 victory against Baltimore.
The Broncos, for the record, were second in points scored and third-best converting third downs in 2012 without Welker, one of the NFL’s most skilled inside receivers.
For opposing defenses, it’s another hurdle to clear. Dealing with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker on the edges is tough enough, but Welker adds to the challenge with his quickness and feel for the passing game.
Welker already has a good rapport with quarterback Peyton Manning; the trio of third-down receptions and the touchdown catches of two and five yards in Week One are proof of that. Welker, who caught nine of 11 passes from Manning, got the best of his matchup with Ravens cornerback Corey Graham, who’s a solid player.
The Giants haven’t faced Welker since Super Bowl XLVI, when he was a member of the Patriots. At various points of that epic battle, safety Antrel Rolle, cornerback Aaron Ross and linebacker Jacquian Williams all had to deal with Welker in coverage in some form or fashion. Overall, Welker caught 7-of-8 passes thrown his way for 60 yards, with a long reception of 19 yards.
On Sunday, Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas could draw Welker in the slot at times. Welker is smaller and quicker than Thomas, but Thomas showed well in his return to action in Week One after missing two full regular seasons with knee issues. In 38 snaps, Thomas notched seven tackles.
“T2 is a hustle guy,” Giants safety Antrel Rolle said of Thomas on Monday, according to the club. “He wants to make every play and that’s what we expect from him and I know we’re just only looking for him to get better.”
No matter who draws Welker, the Giants must be sure tacklers after Welker makes the catch. He’s likely to catch the majority of the passes thrown his way, and it’s up to the Giants to try to limit his damage to little gains.
Welker will get his receptions on Sunday, but if the Giants are to even their record at 1-1, he cannot continually have catches of consequence — the receptions the Broncos need and get as Manning and Welker make it look like they’ve been playing together for years, not months.