The Julian Edelman problem Rams must solve to win

ATLANTA — Do you remember when you were a kid and one of your elders warned: “Don’t touch that. It’s hot and you’ll get burned!’’?

Of course, you touched it anyway because you naively didn’t think that applied to you — that you wouldn’t get burned just because everyone else does.

This same lack of logic applies to the way the previous two teams that have faced the Patriots — the Chargers in the AFC divisional playoff round and the Chiefs in the conference title game — approached trying to cover New England’s tenacious Swiss Army Knife receiver Julian Edelman.

The key word here being: “Trying.’’

The Chargers stubbornly stuck with their cover-three zone and Edelman — who finished with nine receptions for 151 yards — devoured their defense with the ferocity of a lion shredding its prey.

The following week, the Chiefs got soft in the secondary with the game in the balance late and Edelman abused them, finishing with seven catches for 96 yards, including some back-breakers on the most critical drives of the game, including in overtime.

When will anyone learn how to cover this 5-foot-10 pebble in defenders’ shoes?

Maybe the better question is this: Can Edelman be covered?

This much is certain: On the scale of importance for which player the Rams absolutely, positively cannot let beat them, quarterback Tom Brady is No. 1 and Edelman is 1A.

Considering Edelman’s background, it seems preposterous he has become such a force as Brady’s go-to guy.

“He really shouldn’t be here doing this by all accounts, right?’’ Patriots special-teams captain Matthew Slater said. “A college quarterback, undersized, can’t run a 4.3. But this guy is just the ultimate competitor. He is the fight of this team. He represents everything that we try to represent. He’s remarkable.’’

Yes, but why is he always open?

“Sometimes you watch and you wonder, ‘Why doesn’t someone cover him?’ ’’ Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty said. “It’s because Jules is extremely tough to cover. I think Jules does as good a job as anyone of making routes all look the same and he can run so many different routes. It’s hard to believe he’s a former quarterback.’’

Slater said “it never ceases to amaze’’ him how Edelman is seemingly always open and making the biggest catches in the biggest moments of the game.

“It’s almost like he wills himself to do it,’’ Slater said.

Only Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice has caught more passes in the postseason (151 for 2,245 yards and 22 TDs) than Edelman, who has 105 for 1,271 yards and five TDs in his 17 games.

Not bad for a former college quarterback at Kent State who was drafted in the seventh round in 2009.

“That’s what this is all about — it’s about playing your biggest in the biggest moments, and I think Julian epitomizes that,’’ Brady said. “He’s incredibly productive, and then the postseason comes and he’s even more productive than he is in the regular season. He’s just an absolutely incredible player for this franchise. He’s one of the great receivers to play this game.”

Patriots receivers coach Chad O’Shea said: “One of Julian’s greatest strengths is his determination. He’s tough mentally, he’s tough physically. If you have somebody in the huddle that has those traits and those characteristics, it’s contagious to the team.’’

Edelman’s mantra is simple.

“You sacrifice for your goals, because if you don’t, someone else is going to,’’ he said. “I just go out and try to play as hard as I can.’’

Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips called Edelman, “a matchup nightmare.’’

“The [completion] percentage is so high to Edelman on those option routes that you almost have to double [cover] him,’’ Phillips said.

“He’s an explosive, savvy vet who knows how to get it done,’’ Rams cornerback Marcus Peters said.

“A super difficult matchup,’’ Rams cornerback Aqib Talib said. “He’s got good speed and great short-space quickness. He’s also got a Hall of Fame quarterback. The timing is so perfect with that quarterback it makes it difficult to cover. We’ve got know where he’s at at all times. It’ll be a tough cover.’’

The man who likely will be on Edelman most is Rams nickel corner Nickell Robey-Coleman, who marveled at the connection Edelman and Brady have.

“They don’t even have to signal to each other; they can just look at each other and know he’s going to run this route depending on how the look is,’’ Robey-Coleman said. “You’ve got to pick a leverage and live with it. Don’t let Tom Brady dictate how you play your game. You’ve got to play your game the way you play and make him conform to that.’’

This, keep-doing-what-we-do defensive philosophy, of course, is what left the Chargers and Chiefs in the dust, burned beyond recognition.

“I like our plan,’’ Rams cornerbacks coach Aubrey Pleasant said when asked if he’s comfortable with how they’ll handle Edelman.

Then he smiled and added with some emphasis: “I like it a lot this week.’’


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