INDIANAPOLIS – One of the players most identified with the Colts-New England rivalry now faces Indianapolis for an eighth straight year with a third different team.
Wes Welker, who in 2006 played with Miami before a celebrated six-year run with the Patriots, is back to try and be a nettlesome presence once again for Indianapolis.
"He's a great slot receiver, one of the best at that position," said Greg Manusky. "It's a problem because it's always matchups. You can't double-team everybody. He's got so much quickness and has such great movement skills in a small area, a phone booth, that's why it's hard."
Welker has 37 receptions for 378 yards and an NFL-high eight touchdowns while moving from Tom Brady to Peyton Manning.
Welker has scoring receptions in each outing, and last week's against Jacksonville pushed him past Washington's Charlie Brown (1982) for the most consecutive games with a touchdown when joining a new team.
"There are a lot of (strengths), but the rapport he has with his quarterbacks is important," said Matt Hasselbeck. "You can tell there's a lot of trust there. You can tell coaches trust him, too. They find ways to create one-on-one matchups, and he wins them.
"He does a nice job when they use 'stack' formations to help him get relief. He can go inside and outside. He's an animal on third down and in the red zone, but he shows up in other areas."
It was with his old team that Welker proved a dicey customer. When the Colts battled him last November 18, Welker was sporting a 7.1-catch-per-game average since 2007, the year he joined New England. That per-game average topped all NFL receivers during those six seasons.
He added seven receptions that day, gaining 38 of his 80 yards after the catch, totals that have nearly defined his career.
In 146 career games, Welker has 805 receptions for 8,958 yards and 46 touchdowns, while earning 52 percent of his yards (4,671) after the catch.
With the Patriots, Welker never failed to have at least five receptions against Indianapolis. On 84 percent of the times he was targeted, Welker made the reception.
He had 44 for 417 yards and two scores against the Colts from 2007-12, scoring twice and producing 24 first downs. He had 203 career yards after the catch in series contests.
"He's a real quick guy who knows how to get open," said Jerrell Freeman. "He's crafty, speedy. He's a challenge. He's reliable and a tough guy. I've seen him get hit. He gets back up and he's back to his ways."
Welker has thrived in every role and with some basic strengths Manusky says make him effective.
"He's so tricky and so crafty. He feels leverage, just like Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates," said Manusky. "They feel leverage and they work off leverage and body position. It's like a great pass rusher. He feels a guy pressing him up the field and he spins back inside.
"The great ones do that. He does it everywhere, red zone, third downs, he has a great feel for the game, for leverage and how to get away from it when corners or nickelbacks have on him."
Welker has a nine-game streak with touchdown receptions, dating back to last season. This year, seven of his scoring catches have come in the red zone, but his career scoring range has stretched as far as 99 yards.
There will be a nine combined 100-reception seasons on the field Sunday, with Welker (five) and Wayne (four) comprising the number.
Welker's total is the most in league history, while Wayne is tied for second with four others.
"He's always hustling and always around the ball," said Hasselbeck. "He's patient, explosive, tough. He's been successful everywhere he's been, a great player."