Hannable: Why Patriots offense will survive without Josh Gordon

Ryan Hannable
December 20, 2018 - 6:26 pm

Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports

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FOXBORO — After all the missteps at receiver this offseason and during training camp, the Patriots reached the desperate stage following Week 2 of the regular season.

They were desperate enough to trade a fifth-round pick to Cleveland for a troubled Josh Gordon, fully knowing it was no guarantee he would make it through the season given all of his substance abuse and mental health struggles in the past.

After seemingly having no issues through 11 games with the Patriots, almost out of no where it came to an end on Thursday when the receiver announced on Twitter he was stepping away from football to focus on his mental health followed by a report that he was facing a suspension for violating terms of his reinstatement under the substance abuse policy and was officially suspended Thursday afternoon.

Gordon had become a main feature of the Patriots offense. In his 11 games, he had totaled 40 receptions for 720 yards and three touchdowns, while averaging 18 yards per reception. Even playing in 11 games, the wide out still currently has the most receiving yards on the team — nine more than Julian Edelman.

The offense was also depending on him a lot. Starting in Week 6, he played at least 80 percent of the snaps in all but one game — Week 12 against the Jets. Gordon emerged as the No. 2 option behind Julian Edelman in the passing game and had taken significant snaps away from Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson.

Now, it’s these two players that will need to step up with Gordon no longer in the picture, and believe it or not, we like their chances.

Dorsett and Patterson will not be able to replicate Gordon from a talent standpoint, but can from a production standpoint. 

It would seem these two players will share duties taking Gordon’s reps and will need to combine for roughly 3.5 catches and 65 yards a game to match his production, which seems very doable. 

Just look at what Dorsett was able to do earlier in the season when he was playing a ton with Edelman suspended and Gordon not on the roster yet. In Week 1, Dorsett had seven receptions for 66 yards and a touchdown and then in Week 4 he had four catches for 55 yards and a touchdown.

But, maybe more importantly, he earned Tom Brady’s trust.

"He did a lot of things," Brady said of Dorsett after the Week 1 win. "I mean, he caught the ball well, a variety of different routes, had some option routes in there which he did a good job of, catch and run. So, I thought he played great."

“I think if you’re out there, I trust you, the coaches trust you, the team trusts you,” he added. “That’s why we’re putting you out there. So, guys that usually we don’t trust don’t get much opportunity out there. So, Phillip did a great job with his opportunity today."

It seems worth pointing out Dorsett has caught the last 11 passes thrown to him dating back to Week 5, but hasn’t been targeted at all the last three weeks. That obviously will change beginning Sunday against the Bills.

Patterson perhaps has been most valuable to the team this season filling in at running back in the middle of the year, but he’s been showing up more in the passing game the last few weeks despite limited reps. He’s played just 31 total offensive snaps the last three weeks. But, in the last three games he has caught seven of eight passes thrown his way for 124 yards and a touchdown. Last Sunday against the Steelers two of his three catches came on third down, which proves Brady trusts him in big moments.

Neither Patterson or Dorsett will be able to average 18 yards a catch like Gordon did, or demand the attention from defenses, but together they should be able to make up for Gordon’s lost production.

Also, don’t forget about Chris Hogan.

The veteran wide out hasn’t had the greatest of seasons, especially following his first two in New England, but he has performed better of late. After not recording a catch in the Packers or Titans games, following the bye, Hogan has six catches for 125 yards and a touchdown in four games. He is another player that needs to elevate his game.

It will also come down to Josh McDaniels and his ability to scheme plays up to get players open.

With Gordon on the field there was an element of having him run a route and Brady throwing the ball up for him to make a play, which took the scheming element away. Edelman and Rob Gronkowski are not what they once were so things need to be schemed for them as well -- which they have been at times.

Look for more pre-snap motion and things of that nature to try and throw defenses off. Dorsett certainly knows the playbook well enough to do that, and same with Hogan. The Patriots will likely still use a three wide receiver set the majority of the time and in that case look for Edelman, Hogan and Dorsett to get the most snaps because they are most familiar with the offense.

Patterson will still be used in certain sets, but will not receive as big of a boost in playing time as Dorsett should.

Without Gordon, it comes down to having faith in Dorsett and McDaniels to elevate their games and the past has shown that they can. It has certainly been noteworthy how good Dorsett’s attitude has remained all year even with his playing time being taken away. Look for that to pay off.

It certainly will be a challenge to keep things up without Gordon, but have a little faith in Dorsett and McDaniels -- they have good chance of getting it done.

Related: Patriots players react to Josh Gordon's suspension

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