PROVIDENCE - There is plenty of film of receiver Wes Welker gaining chunks of yardage for the Patriots this season.
Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick is collecting all the information he can on Welker. Scandrick, who has missed three games with a high ankle sprain, will return to the field Sunday at Gillette Stadium with the responsibility of containing Welker.
On Monday, Scandrick told ESPNDallas he is looking forward to the challenge and preparing to make Welker work for every yard. And while opponents are studying Welker, he is studying them.
“I definitely pay attention to them,’’ Welker said. “That’s who I study film on all week. Whoever is over me, is over me and I know their strengths or weaknesses going into the week. I definitely take a look across and see what I’m up against and the best way to attack him.’’
Welker was among 16 Patriots who were in Providence yesterday helping more than 200 volunteers build a playground at Dexter Training Ground. The players used part of their offday to participate in the event, but Welker said he will spend time this week watching film on the Dallas defense.
Welker has an NFL record 740 yards through five games and 45 receptions. Against the Jets Sunday, Welker spent much of the game matched up with cornerback Darrelle Revis.
“It’s a huge challenge,’’ Scandrick said. “They said he’s on pace for 2,600 yards or something crazy, but going into this game, I’m going to make him work. We’re going to see what happens.’’
When the Patriots began their defensive shift to a 4-3 during the preseason, coach Bill Belichick didn’t spend much time explaining his decision.
In an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio yesterday, Belichick talked about the change.
“We’ve played a mixture of odd fronts and even fronts, but I just felt given the lack of spring opportunities to practice and meet and the shortened training camp, that from a teaching standpoint we felt like there would be more carryover teaching our base defense and nickel defense really as one front with a lot of carryover between our run responsibilities and run fits, and some of our pressure defenses and things like that,’’ Belichick said.
With so many young players in the defense, Belichick said it was the best approach for bringing along the entire group.
“We felt like it would be a better opportunity to evaluate our players and not try to overinstall and put in a ton of defense,’’ he said. “Try to cut it down a little bit and see if we could execute it better. I mean, certainly, we have a long way to go but I do feel like we’re making progress, and I think our players at least understand what we’re doing.
“There are so many intricacies to a 3-4 defense that I just didn’t know if we’d be ready to handle them this year. Probably wouldn’t have been, to be honest with you.’’
Backing a ’backer
Jermaine Cunningham hasn’t been seen much in the defensive rotation, but he is moving in a positive direction, Belichick said. Cunningham, a second-year linebacker, has been mostly used on special teams and has played just 33 defensive snaps, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
The Patriots drafted Cunningham in the second round out of Florida in 2010. He played in a little more than half of the team’s defensive snaps during his rookie season, starting 11 games. But this season, Cunningham hasn’t started and has one tackle in four games.
He played in the first two games of the preseason but then was slowed by injuries and missed a stretch of practices and the final two preseason games. The missed time proved critical as the Patriots changed some of Cunningham’s responsibilities.
“I think one of the things that Jermaine has had to work through is the time that he missed in training camp and the games at the end of preseason, for a second-year player especially,’’ Belichick said.
“With him, last year really playing outside linebacker and doing that and this year we transitioned into a little bit more of a multiple defensive front, it’s been a little bit of an adjustment. Missing that time didn’t help him any. He’s worked hard and he’s done a good job to get back on the field and get rehabbed and get back out there. He’s improving, he’s gotten a little better each week.
“I think he’s definitely on the upswing here and a guy that we hope will be able to contribute for us.’’
Tight end Jason Witten leads the Cowboys with 27 receptions for 366 yards and will have the attention of the Patriots Sunday.
Witten is in his ninth season and his 6-foot-6-inch, 265-pound frame makes him a challenge to cover.
“He’s outstanding,’’ Belichick said. “He’s really a guy you have to be aware of all the time. I think the big thing that separates Witten from a lot of other tight ends is his blocking ability. He’s a very good point-of-attack blocker. They run behind him so you have to deal with him in the running game. In the passing game, he’s really good in all three areas.
“He’s really a complete player. He’s a smart guy. I think he’s one of the best tight ends in the league, no question about it. He also complements a lot of other players they have.’’
In stitches Safety
Patrick Chung ended up with two stitches on the bridge of his nose after the foot of Jets offensive lineman D’Brickashaw Ferguson squeezed through Chung’s facemask Sunday. Chung slipped off the helmet but Ferguson couldn’t pull out his shoe as officials came over to grab the helmet. Yesterday Chung said it was one of the strangest moments in his career. “It was the craziest thing,’’ he said. “I didn’t know what happened at first.’’ After the scene was replayed on television, Chung hasn’t heard the end of it. “You get kicked in your face, you become famous,’’ he said with a laugh . . . The Patriots re-signed tight end Dan Gronkowski to the 53-man roster. He is the older brother of tight end Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots originally signed Dan Gronkowski days before the season opener against the Dolphins . He played in the first two games of the season, then was limited by a hamstring injury. The Patriots released him Sept. 23.