Revisiting Josh Gordon’s impact on the New England Patriots
Nine games into his first season with New England, Josh Gordon may finally be finding his stride with the Patriots.
Playing wide receiver in the NFL is hard enough. Playing wide receiver for the New England Patriots is even harder. The team is famed for its complex schemes and play calls, courtesy of coordinator and perennial head coaching candidate Josh McDaniels, who is the offensive yin to Bill Belichick’s defensive yang.
Some pass-catchers have the wherewithal to master the Patriots’ complicated playbook in time. Julian Edelman, Wes Welker, Randy Moss, Deion Branch… these are just some of the names that immediately come to mind. Others aren’t nearly as lucky or successful (we’re looking at you, Chad Ochocinco).
So why is it so difficult for talented receivers to stick in Foxborough?
Just ask the guy throwing them the football.
In an interview with WEEI Boston way back in August, Tom Brady acknowledged the uphill climb many receivers face in joining the team.
“I would say receiver is a very tough position in our offense,” said Brady. “We have a very graduate-type level offense and it takes a lot to learn. It’s not easy.”
It’s telling that the Patriots have parted ways with 10 different receivers in the 2018 calendar year alone – a list that includes notable figures like Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, Eric Decker, Jordan Matthews, and Kenny Britt. Sure, some of those players were either traded or retired, but it’s still surprising that in today’s pass-happy NFL a team can so casually discard talent at the wideout position the way New England has done all year.
So who then are the guys actually out there running routes for No. 12?
The current depth chart boasts an eclectic mix of familiar faces and reclamation projects.
Edelman and running mate Chris Hogan anchor the first category, along with a bevy of sure-handed running backs moonlighting as receivers. The second group consists of former first round draft picks Cordarrelle Patterson and Phillip Dorsett.
And then there’s Josh Gordon.
Cleveland Browns fans can tell you all about Gordon. He’s an uber-talented, freakishly fast athlete with soft hands and the prototypical build you’d want in a starting No. 1 receiver.
Unfortunately, he also has more than his fair share of accompanying baggage. His struggles with substance abuse are well-documented, as is his extensive history of missing time serving lengthy suspensions.
If there’s any upside to a guy playing in only his third full season, when he should be playing in his seventh, it’s freshness. And in Gordon’s case, that freshness is twofold, both physically and mentally. His body doesn’t have the normal wear-and-tear associated with a 27-year-old NFL player, and his mentality is focused on earning a championship now that he’s finally playing for a winning team.
Naturally, Gordon has credited some of his turnaround to his new quarterback. He praised Brady for his work ethic, and noted how quickly the two have developed chemistry over the course of this season.
The true test, of course, is to see how valuable Gordon can prove himself down the stretch run. Statistically-speaking, he’s averaging just over 6 targets and 67 yards per game since coming to New England. Those aren’t horrible numbers for a player in an offense noted for spreading the ball around, but they’ll need to improve as the Patriots face stiffer competition as the season ends and in the playoffs.
NFL teams have grown accustomed to watching Brady dissect his opposition with a short-to-intermediate precision passing game, highlighted by screen passes to running backs coming out of the backfield and shallow crossing routes by slot receivers. That, combined with the emergence of rookie running back Sony Michel, has led defensive coordinators to press their coverage closer to the line of scrimmage, daring McDaniels and Brady to try and fire deep to beat them.
Whether or not the 41-year-old quarterback can do just that will hinge on the play of perimeter threats like Gordon, and to a lesser extent Patterson and Dorsett. Assuming Brady’s arm strength doesn’t suddenly fall off a cliff entirely, it’s safe to assume he’ll hold up his end of the bargain.
The rest will depend on Josh Gordon, both on and off the field. If he can build on his Patriots performance thus far, and perhaps take it up another level closer to his 2013 Browns heights, he has a real opportunity to forever rewrite his own narrative as both a player and a person.