EDITOR'S NOTE: This week, independent analyst Andrew Mason will take a closer look at five players to watch in this Sunday's AFC Championship Game. Third on the list: Patriots receivers Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Because Danny Amendola signed with the Patriots within hours of Wes Welker's departure in free agency last year, the two were always going to be connected, even beyond their slot-receiver skills and shared alma mater, Texas Tech.
But injuries kept him from finding a groove last year, and in the end, it was Welker's understudy in New England, Julian Edelman, that ended up picking up most of the slack in the wake of Welker's departure.
Now that Amendola is healthy, you can't mention one without the other. With Rob Gronkowski out for the season after suffering a knee injury, the Patriots needed both, with one taking Gronkowski's role -- that often necessitated lining up in one slot.
So you will sometimes see them both in the slot. One of the key plays in their frantic comeback win over Cleveland saw each receiver line up in the slots to each side of Brady. This kind of formation can force safety confusion; each has the speed to get upfield if the need arises.
Although neither has Gronkowski's size, their speed and quick cuts provide another dimension. Covering either with a linebacker can be a futile task, and Tom Brady's ability to fire the football into narrow windows means that even tight coverage might not do much good.
The two are also lethal when they're flanked to one side. New England used this formation early last week in an attempt to force the Colts' cornerbacks to collide. It was unsuccessful, and the Colts' man coverage maintained its integrity, but Amendola still managed to cut in front of the cornerback and ran a post toward the goal line, catching a 16-yard pass just behind a safety. The play was properly defended, but still moved the chains on third-and-3 anyway.
But Amendola and Edelman are more than just move-the-sticks specialists. Combined, they averaged 10.62 yards per reception on 159 catches: 105 for Edelman and 54 for Amendola.
But with the emergence of LeGarrette Blount, they can take advantage of play-action and pick up yardage in larger chunks.
Amendola had a 53-yard reception last week, running a post route and taking advantage of the safety and cornerback biting on the fake. By the time Amendola caught the football, he had three yards of separation and was 39 yards downfield, adding another 14 after the catch.
"He's showed me really what he's all about," said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. "He's fought through a lot of adversity earlier in the year and is really playing his best football. He's done a great job. He's been in and out of different roles in the whole offense and different positions, different formations. He's had to learn a lot of different spots. He's willing to do whatever it takes. He's doing great and I love being out there with him."
On the 53-yard connection, Edelman was available as a short option, running a crossing route just past the line of scrimmage. But the two are interchangeable, and it could be Edelman who gets the deep shot Sunday.