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Loss of Welker hits Patriots offense hard

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Jimmy Johnson

Jimmy Johnson was the architect of the Dallas Cowboys' dynasty in the mid-1990s. His team celebrated two consecutive Super Bowl victories with Johnson at the helm. He joined "FOX NFL Sunday" in 2010. Follow him on Twitter.

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The Patriots struggled some earlier in the season when Wes Welker was out, and when you look at the number of receptions he has had this season, what he does is open up everything for the deep passes to Randy Moss. Obviously, they aren't even close to the same team without him.

Some people could argue Welker is the most valuable player on the Patriots outside of Tom Brady. With New England's style of offense, running out of an open set, or a spread, the little dinks, dunks and drags and crossing routes to Welker also opened up New England's running game. It keeps any defensive team from stacking up against the run. His short receptions helped them on the draws and screens they prefer to use. He's a big, big key for their offense.

Now, Julian Edelman had some nice plays, catching 10 passes for 103 yards, but he's still not Wes Welker.

The Patriots are still a good football team without him, but maybe not as good as Indianapolis and San Diego right now. San Diego is on a roll with 11 straight wins. I think the Chargers can make a good run at this whole thing. Give them a week to heal up and get healthy and if they can win their first divisional game, they could possibly go to Indianapolis, against a team they've had success with in the past. Those are the two teams I like the most in the AFC.

To rest or not to rest


As a general philosophy, if your playoff position is set, I think teams should rest their injured players and play healthy players for a portion of the game and then pull them out. The one unique case the past two weeks, which I think had a lot of fans and the league in an uproar, was when the Colts had a chance at an undefeated season and pulled their starters. For me, I think all the bets are off when you have that kind of an opportunity.

If I am coaching, I play all my healthy players and try to win every game. The Colts had a great shot to be a part of history, and I think you want to make a run at something like that. I think everybody, coaches and players, wants to at least try to win them all. But it doesn't bother me that some teams are resting players and protecting players, even though other teams around the league are squawking about it, saying they are allowing some teams to back into the playoffs.

Hey, that's a position those teams were able to reach because they won enough games earlier in the season. And they can't be worried about what other teams are doing or saying about them; they have to prepare for a run at the Super Bowl.

Now, in regard to what Sean Payton did Sunday in Carolina with the Saints, let me begin by saying that losing three games at the end of the season going into the playoffs is not good. But I don't know it would have been a whole lot better for the Saints, already set with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, to throw their starters in there to try to win a meaningless Carolina game. And the Saints might not have won it with their starters playing.

No. 1, your starters are not going to be really happy having to go back in and play in this last game when it's meaningless. So you are going to have an unhappy locker room. You are going to have an unhappy team, so why have that kind of distraction? Why throw them in there like that, especially after we just saw what happened to Wes Welker? Why play Drew Brees and then have Julius Peppers twist his knee? It just didn't make sense to Payton and the Saints. All it could have done is cause dissension and possibly lose an invaluable player.

Now, as far as the Saints losing three straight, I don't think having momentum is that important when you have a bye as they do. If you are going to play the next week, momentum is more valuable. But if you have a bye, you have two weeks to prepare for your first playoff opponent. The Packers played great today in Arizona and they have to go back out there next weekend, so momentum should help them a lot. But for teams that have a bye, that momentum isn't such a big factor.

The NFC rematch factor


Arizona has been a Jekyll and Hyde team all season. The Cardinals have played some stinkers at home. Now, maybe getting beat as they did might embarrass them just enough to make them play better. Maybe losing as they did will make them mad. Obviously, Green Bay is going back to Arizona with some confidence.

But the interesting rematch will be Philadelphia going back to Dallas, because this rematch is a big rivalry. And Philadelphia has had an upper hand on Dallas in recent seasons in some of these games and embarrassed the Cowboys at the end of the year last season.

Everybody has tremendous respect for the Philadelphia coaching staff, and I promise they will correct some of the mistakes they made in today's game.

I really liked Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett's approach to this game. Philadelphia forces a lot of turnovers with blitzes. What Dallas did was use a lot of a spread sets. By spreading receivers all over the field, it made Philadelphia commit its people on blitzes. The Dallas spread allows Tony Romo to see man pass coverage easily, and if it's a zone blitz, that puts the Philadelphia defenders in poor positions.

Consequently, by spreading the Eagles completely out, it exposed the blitz. It really helped Tony Romo with his decisions. He knew exactly where to throw. But when Dallas wanted to run the ball, the Cowboys went back to the I formation to run their lead draw. But when they went to the spread set, they were throwing the ball. And it definitely negated Philadelphia's blitz.

Now, if Garrett doesn't change his spread formations for next week, the Eagles are going to have to come up with blitzes to put some pressure on Romo. But they are going to have to do it in a way that they can disguise it. They can make these adjustments in a short week, and they definitely need to do it.

I loved Garrett's game plan because it went against their standard. I mean, the Cowboys are supposed to be a running team. Well, if you have Romo standing back there by himself in the shotgun, you are not running the football. But by using that formation, the Cowboys made Philadelphia commit on blitzes. So instead of trying the fool the Eagles about whether they were going to run or pass, the Cowboys let the Eagles know it was going to be a pass - so Dallas could see what the defense was going to do. It was really good thinking on the Cowboys' part.

What it did was take the indecision out of the offense. If the Cowboys had used their customary two backs in the backfield and wanted to use a play-action pass, there might have been six blitzers coming and then Romo would have had to make a quick decision. But if he's standing in a shotgun with no running backs, he knows exactly where to throw the football. It really helped Romo. And what little running game the Cowboys had, when they lined up in I formation, they ran a little draw play or sweep.

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