After struggling in Week 16, the New England Patriots passing attack finished the regular season on a high note. Quarterback Tom Brady finished his night with 250 yards and four touchdowns, spreading the ball around to seven different receivers. However, perhaps what was most encouraging was the usage of wide receiver Phillip Dorsett. After not catching a pass since Week 12, Dorsett recorded five receptions for 34 yards and a touchdown in the season finale. Additionally, the second-year Patriot added an additional 16 rushing yards on two jet sweeps.
Dorsett isn’t a game-breaking talent, but the ultimate success of this team is highly dependent upon his inclusion in the offense. With Josh Gordon done for the season, New England will need to incorporate Dorsett and his strengths into the passing game. If Sunday’s game is any indication, the Patriots found a perfect way to use Dorsett and his unique skillset.
New England Patriots Perfect Usage of Phillip Dorsett
Prior to Week Four’s action, our very own Steve McGuire broke down why Phillip Dorsett was so ineffective in Week Three against the Detroit Lions. In short, Steve found that Dorsett isn’t effective in the deep part of the field. He was a deep threat while in college and can run an impressive 4.25 40-yard dash, but that skill just hasn’t translated to the NFL.
Dorsett is, however, incredibly effective in the short portions of the field. Entering Week 17, Dorsett had recorded 25 receptions for 220 yards and two touchdowns on targets within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage. In terms of efficiency, this corresponds to a 67% success rate, which is well above the league average.
Deep passes, on the other hand, are a much different story. Throughout the 2018 regular season, Dorsett saw 10 targets beyond 15 yards of the line of scrimmage. Dorsett caught just two of said targets for 36 yards for no touchdowns and three interceptions. This equates to an ugly 20% success rate, which is well below the league average.
New England, well aware of Dorsett’s strengths and weaknesses, used him perfectly in the season finale. All five of Dorsett’s targets came within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage. Dorsett made the most of these targets, catching each one of them and picking up the necessary yardage to set up the offense for the next play.
Getting Creative With Dorsett
Dorsett is a polished route runner, which makes him dangerous in the short portion of the field. However, his top-notch speed is somewhat wasted playing in this portion of the field. Fortunately, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels figured out a great way to utilize Dorsett’s speed within the offense.
With Cordarrelle Patterson out with a knee injury, the Patriots used Dorsett on two jet sweeps. Dorsett has the speed to make it the edge and recorded a combined 16 yards on his two rushing attempts. This wasn’t the first New England did this, as Dorsett recorded 13 yards on two jet sweeps in Week 16 against the Buffalo Bills.
Granted, the only reason they were running these plays with Dorsett is that Patterson was injured. While Dorsett is effective on these plays, Patterson is still more dangerous on jet sweeps. If and when Patterson returns to the lineup, he should go back to taking the running work.
However, the fact that the Patriots can successfully run these plays with Dorsett makes the Patriots offense more unpredictable. Every time Dorsett is on the field, opposing defenses will need to account for the fact Dorsett can take the ball on a jet sweep. If you’re looking for proof of effective this unpredictability can be, look no further than New England’s final drive of Week 17.
How Phillip Dorsett Set Up Julian Edelman’s Touchdown
Starting at the New York Jets’ five-yard line, the Patriots lined up with Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, and Chris Hogan bunched off right tackle. James White was lined up far-side wide and Dorsett started off in the slot. Prior to the snap, Dorsett ran behind the formation as if he were to take the sweep. This motion, combined with the bunch set on the near side, made New York think Dorsett was about to take the ball. The Jets, and safety Jamal Adams in particular, put their focus on stopping Dorsett. Because of this, nobody accounted for Julian Edelman running over the middle for a wide-open touchdown reception.
Patterson is more dangerous in the open field, but Dorsett is the better receiver. As long as Dorsett’s on the field, the Patriots know that they can successfully run the ball with a jet sweep. Opposing defenses will respect Dorsett’s ability on the ground, which should open up lanes in the passing game. It worked before, and it should work again.
Last Word on Phillip Dorsett’s Usage
The New England Patriots need Phillip Dorsett now more than ever. With Josh Gordon done for the season, New England needs to incorporate all of their playmakers to make their offense as deadly as possible. Based on Week 17’s action, the Patriots have found a perfect way to use Phillip Dorsett.
Despite his blazing speed, Dorsett is best used in the shorter portions of the field. After trying him as a deep threat against Detroit, the Patriots exclusively used him in the short passing game against the Jets. The results were flawless, as Dorsett hauled in all five of his targets for 34 yards, one touchdown, and a 100% success rate.
Additionally, even though Dorsett’s speed doesn’t translate to the deep portion of the field, Josh McDaniels still found a way to take advantage of Dorsett’s legs. With Patterson sidelined, Dorsett became involved in end-around runs. While that role might be diminished when Patterson returns, Dorsett’s ability to effectively run the play can dramatically affect an opposing defense. This already happened in Week 17, and should continue to happen in the playoffs.
Phillip Dorsett isn’t an All-Pro by any means, but he’s a valuable role player in the offense. When he’s on the field and utilized properly, he’s one of the most efficient players in the league. Understanding his role and incorporating him into the passing game should improve New England’s entire offense. Only time will tell if this positive change sticks in the playoffs, but the early signs are highly encouraging.
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