Hannable: It’s pretty clear how Patriots will make up for loss of Julian Edelman in Weeks 1-4

Ryan Hannable
August 17, 2018 - 2:37 am

David Butler II/USA Today Sports

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FOXBORO — There’s no question Julian Edelman is extremely important to the Patriots offense, which was why there was so much concern upon learning of his four-game suspension. 

Matters were made worse when the receiving core took a hit when Malcolm Mitchell and Jordan Matthews were released shortly after training camp began. Looking at the wide receiver depth chart without Edelman, things don’t look good. 

Prior to Thursday’s preseason game against the Eagles, there were some questions regarding how the offense will be the first month of the year, but following the 37-20 win over the Eagles, it’s quite apparent what the Patriots will do to offset the receiver position.

Feed James White and the other Patriots running backs out of the backfield. 

White was the offensive star on Thursday, catching six passes on six targets for 61 yards and a touchdown to go along with four rushes for 31 yards. White played virtually all of the first half and touched the ball on 27 percent of the Patriots’ offensive snaps. On the opening drive when the Patriots went 62 yards in seven plays, White received five touches.

Tom Brady loves the fifth-year back out of Wisconsin.

“I don't think you could ask any more of a teammate than what James provides us and the trust that everyone has in him,” he said afterwards. “I mean, I feel like he never makes a mistake, and it's pretty amazing to have that. You know, we've had some great sub backs and James is right in the mold of all those other guys – Kevin Faulk and Shane [Vereen] and Danny Woodhead. James has his own way of doing it, but what an incredible play he made on the screen play, amongst many other great plays, and I love playing with him.”

After basically a red-shirt year in 2014, his first year in the league, White has turned into one of Brady’s most dependable targets. In 2015, he caught 40 passes for 410 yards with a catch percentage of 74 percent. In 2016, he caught 60 passes for 551 yards for a catch percentage of 70 percent, and then last year he caught 56 passes for 429 yards for a catch percentage of 78 percent. 

Very impressive.

It also seems like White and the Patriots are trying to add some runs in between the tackles to his game so defenses can’t key in on a passing play every time he’s in the game. Last year he rushed for 171 yards on 43 carries, so his four carries for 31 yards Thursday night could mean good things are ahead.

Brady has also shown the ability to lock in on White in certain games, and that could be the case in Weeks 1-4. For White’s career, he’s had seven or more targets in 10 games.

White isn’t the only running back who should see plenty of chances to make plays. Rex Burkhead figures to be another player who will have an active part of the offense and perhaps beyond Weeks 1-4, rookie Sony Michel could fit into this category as well.

If Brady doesn’t have the best receivers, he has no problem throwing to his backs. In 2017, 27 percent of the Patriots’ pass attempts were intended for running backs. 

So while the wide receivers group is pretty up in the air, especially for the beginning of the year, it really shouldn’t be too much of an issue as Thursday showed the running backs are more than capable of picking up the slack.

Related: 10 takeaways from Patriots win

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