The New England Patriots offense has looked a bit different this year. After watching Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola leave for greener pastures, most figured that the offense would run through Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski. However, injuries and suspensions have affected both player’s availability. Fortunately for New England, Josh Gordon has started to emerge as the savior for this offense. Originally acquired for a fifth-round pick, the first-year Patriot has taken on a bigger role than any could have imagined prior for a player so fresh to Foxboro.
Josh Gordon is Saving the New England Patriots Offense
It’s no secret that the New England Patriots offense struggled over the first few weeks of the season. Julian Edelman missed the first four games of the season and Rob Gronkowski has been limited with ankle and back injuries all year long. The Patriots offense looked lost with a hobbled Gronkowski, scoring a combined 30 points in Weeks Two and Three, most of which coming in garbage time. Chris Hogan disappeared completely, while Phillip Dorsett wasn’t good enough to beat opposing defenses top cornerbacks.
Everything started to change when Gordon made his Patriots debut in Week Four against the Miami Dolphins. While the defense stole the show, the offense finally got back on track. While he only caught two passes, both came on third down and he drew another key pass interference penalty.
One week later, Gordon showed off the skills that made him such a physical freak. In a homage to Randy Moss, Gordon caught an unbelievable touchdown between two Indianapolis Colts defenders. Gordon had no business making that catch, and the fact Tom Brady even threw it shows how much faith he has in his newest receiver.
Perhaps in a perfect world, this would be Gordon’s role for the duration of the season. Learning the New England offense is hard for any first-year Patriot, nevermind a guy acquired midseason. However, injuries forced New England to give Gordon a larger role in the offense. Not only has Gordon succeeded in this role, but he’s also thrived in it.
Josh Gordon: WR1
After seeing the field on just 24% of snaps in Weeks Three and Four, Josh Gordon has played the vast majority of the Patriots offensive snaps over the past month. Starting with the Week Six game against Kansas City, Gordon has played 245 snaps, second among wide receivers only to Julian Edelman. This shows that Gordon has already acquired an accelerated knowledge of the playbook. Regardless of natural talent, you won’t see the field in New England if you don’t know what you’re supposed to do.
Not only is Gordon on the field, but he’s an active part of the passing game. In the last four games, Gordon has hauled in 18 receptions for 314 yards and a touchdown on 32 targets. His 17.44 yards per reception over this span is one of the best in the league and he’s making plays that only a handful of players in the league can make.
Perhaps what’s most impressive about what Gordon has accomplished is the type of catches he’s making. Gordon is consistently getting open downfield and winning tough contested passes in traffic. He’s taken some serious hits and broken several tackles to pick up hard-earned yards after the catch. Adding to this impressive feat is that Brady has turned to Gordon in several big moments. Tom Brady has looked Gordon’s way multiple times on big third and fourth down plays. While they haven’t always converted, turning to Gordon in these big moments shows that Brady trusts Gordon to be exactly where he should on any given snap.
How Gordon is doing this while learning on the fly is a mystery. The New England Patriots offense is one of the more complex schemes in the league, especially for wide receivers. On just about every play, receivers have multiple route assignments depending on what the defense does both pre- and post-snap. Gordon needs to not only learn the playbook but also learn to see the defense the exact same way Tom Brady sees it. He’s been up to the task so far, impressing his quarterback in the process.
The Best Is Yet to Come
Josh Gordon has been a godsend to this offense, providing an outside threat that Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett simply could not provide. Even if Gordon continued to play like this the rest of the season, he’d still be well-worth the fifth-round pick it took to acquire him. However, all signs point to Josh Gordon continuing to increase his role as the season goes on.
Just by watching the film, it’s clear that Brady and Gordon are still working on developing a perfect chemistry. No matter how talented and smart Gordon is, it’s impossible for Brady and Gordon to be completely on the same page over this short a time. As the season goes on, they’ll become even more comfortable with each other and could be a force second to only the Randy Moss-Tom Brady connection from 2007.
Over the past four games, Gordon has hauled in 56.3% of his targets. This number should improve as time goes on. While the outside will naturally have a lower catch rate than a guy like James White, we can expect Gordon’s catch rate to improve as he and Brady iron out any remaining timing issues.
Throughout his professional career, Gordon’s catch rate has hovered around 55%. While his 56.3% catch rate is right on line with his average, Gordon should improve in 2018. Needless to say, Tom Brady is significantly better than Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell, Brian Hoyer, and any of the other quarterback the Cleveland Browns sent his way. Gordon will see more accurate passes, which naturally means he’ll be hauling in more yards and receptions.
There are only a handful of players in the league who have more raw talent than Josh Gordon. While his off-field decisions aren’t always the best, his on-field choices have been on point all season long. He’s clearly putting in the work to master the Patriots playbook and is smart enough to read defenses at the elite level required.
A Key Weapon
Quite frankly, this offense would be lost without Gordon. With Rob Gronkowski battling through injuries, the Patriots offense needed a playmaker down the field. As great Julian Edelman and James White are, they’re not downfield threats who win contested passes.
The Patriots tried to use Phillip Dorsett and Chris Hogan in a similar role, but both players came up short. While Dorsett has flashed promise, Hogan has disappeared for a large portion of the season. At this point, Hogan’s no better than a third wide receiver in any offense and cannot produce when defenses shift their focus towards him.
Gordon’s combination of both physical and mental skills has turned him into something of a savior for this offense. Without him, New England wouldn’t have the ability to consistently move the ball downfield. Defenses have to respect Gordon’s game-changing ability, which opens up the underneath stuff for Edelman and White. Additionally, players like Dorsett and Hogan are now going up against lesser defensive backs, which allows both players the opportunity to separate and be a part of the passing attack.
Last Word on Josh Gordon and Patriots Passing Attack
In a perfect world, Josh Gordon would be a fantastic complementary piece on a stacked offense. However, Gordon has become a lot more than that thanks to a series of key injuries. Gordon offers a unique game-breaking skillset and his presence alone completely changes the way defenses approach the Patriots.
The good news is that this offense is only going to get better. Sony Michel and Rob Gronkowski should both be back after the bye week at the very latest. With both players essentially taking a month off to heal from their respective wounds, they should be ready to go for the remainder of the season. Additionally, there have been speculations that the Patriots could bring Rex Burkhead off the injured reserve for the playoff run.
As it is, an offense with Gordon, Edelman, and White is hard to defend. Each player can beat a defense at a different level of the field, and defenses can’t afford to shift too much focus to one individual player. Once the Patriots are healthy, this offense could be the best in the league.
Finding good defenses in the NFL is exceeding rare. Recent rule changes have offensive play more important than ever. The Patriots offense will continue to get better as Gordon gets more and more acclimated in the offense. As time goes on, some of those Brady-to-Gordon near-misses will turn into big chunk-yardage plays. Combining that game-changing ability with the reliability of Edelman and White and the healthy return of Gronkowski and Michel should give the Patriots one of the best offenses in the league, if not the best.
Oh, and some guy named Tom Brady is conducting the whole thing.
Embed from Getty Images