On Monday, the Ravens had to try to shut down Megatron. This weekend, they must deal with Minitron.
Julian Edelman might not have the athleticism and imposing stature of Calvin Johnson or an intimidating nickname, but over the past few weeks, Edelman has been one of the NFL’s most productive wide receivers.
Since Week 12, Edelman has been targeted 51 times by New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. He caught 37 of those passes for 414 yards and four touchdowns. Brady threw his way a whopping 19 times in last week’s loss to the Miami Dolphins and Edelman had 13 catches for 139 yards and a score.
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So Edelman will present a challenge for the Ravens defense on Sunday, but needless to say, it will be a much different one than Monday night’s 18-16 win over the Detroit Lions.
Johnson is a 6-foot-5 freak who is capable of running past or leaping over cornerbacks to make big plays down the field. Cornerback Jimmy Smith and the Ravens contained him -- it helped that he dropped a couple of passes -- as he finished with six catches for 98 yards and no touchdowns.
But while Johnson usually lines up as an outside receiver, Edelman, whom Brady recently dubbed “Minitron,” and fellow pint-sized wide-out Danny Amendola do most of their damage as slot receivers. That means Corey Graham and Lardarius Webb will have to be on their game Sunday.
Edelman and Amendola might not be as productive as Wes Welker was in his time in New England, but it's been close.
“Each one of those guys you are talking about, they fit a specific role -- you’re talking about 11 and 80 -- they do the underneath stuff, the short passing game, the inside routes,” coach John Harbaugh said. “They do a great job of that.”
According to Pro Football Focus, Edelman, who is 5-foot-10 in cleats and 198 pounds soaking wet, has lined up in the slot on 51 percent of his routes run this season. On those plays, he caught a ridiculous 74.6 percent of the passes thrown to him, the third-highest catch rate in the NFL among receivers lining up in the slot, for 432 yards and five touchdowns.
Amendola, who is 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds, has been in the slot for 79.6 percent of his routes run, one of the highest rates in the league. He has 447 receiving yards and two scores out of the slot. With 10 receptions for 131 yards against the Dolphins, Amendola is coming off his most productive game with the Patriots, who signed him as a free agent this spring.
“They run the same offense that they’ve run,” Harbaugh said. “They put different players into the equation and they have roles for those guys. The Patriots do as a good job as anyone in league and have over the years of fitting players into their offense and taking advantage of the things they do well.”
The Patriots like to throw quick passes to their wide receivers so they can wiggle free and make plays after the catch. Only 10 NFL wide receivers have racked up more yards after the catch than Edelman, who has 397 yards. Against the Dolphins, he caught a short pass on a crossing route and weaved through the defense for a 24-yard touchdown.
Amendola, meanwhile, got 219 of his yards after the catch.
Tackling will be critical for a Baltimore defense that has allowed screens to be busted open for long touchdowns against the Minnesota Vikings and the Denver Broncos.
“It’s big. They’re very fast, elusive receivers,” strong safety James Ihedigbo said. “They’re smaller-sized receivers so it’s important to gang-tackle and get guys to the football.”