Anyone reading this column knows that I am extremely high on Phillip Dorsett this season. He has established himself as a true option in the receiving game for Tom Brady‘s Hall of Fame passing during Julian Edelman‘s absence. But he was, frankly, terrible in week three against the Detroit Lions. The New England Patriots are looking to avoid their first 1-3 start to a season since 2001 when they head to Miami on Sunday. Dorsett will have a significant hand in whether or not the Patriots move to .500 or drop to match their worst start in the Brady era.
Phillip Dorsett and Co. Need a Rebound Week
Dorsett is the Patriots second-most targeted pass-catcher through the first three weeks of the season. Before heading to Detroit, he had caught 12 of 14 targets for an incredible 85.71 percent catch rate. Had he maintained that kind of production into week three, his catch rate would be within the top five among all qualified wide receivers and tight ends across the league.
But he didn’t.
Dorsett didn’t catch a single one of his five targets.
In week one, Dorsett saw an average separation of 4.4 yards per target and posted a perfect catch rate. In week two, as opposing defenses began to hone in on Dorsett as a top receiver, he saw much closer pressure with an average separation of 2.9 yards per target. In week three against the Lions, Dorsett’s separation dropped to 2.3 yards per target, and his catch rate dropped to zero.
Air Yards Per Target
It also appears that Dorsett’s poor performance may have been the result of a change in Josh McDaniels‘ play-calling, a change that has been apparent over the first three weeks. In week one, Dorsett’s average air yards per target was only 7.4, meaning that he was only 7.4 yards downfield when Brady gave him the ball.
In week two, that number increased to 11.7, an obvious attempt by McDaniels to try and ease Dorsett back into being the deep threat by the time Edelman returns from suspension.
Week three saw an enormous jump in where Dorsett was targeted. Against the Lions, Brady targeted Dorsett five times at an average of 24.2 yards downfield. This massive jump, paired with the other data, communicates a couple of things: 1. Dorsett is not as reliable of a deep threat as the team initially thought. 2. Dorsett has significantly more trouble creating separation downfield. McDaniels needs to calm down on using Dorsett as a deep threat.
Dorsett’s chances of improving his numbers in week four aren’t terrible. He has had decent success in very limited looks against the Dolphins in his career. He played a single game against Miami when he was with the Indianapolis Colts in 2015, catching two of his three targets for 29 yards.
That all being said, this may be the week that Josh Gordon sees his first snaps as a New England Patriots, and Dorsett may no longer be the replacement top wide receiver.
This week, McDaniels praised Gordon’s ability to pick up the playbook. The recurrent theme surrounding Gordon on Monday seemed to be “learning.” Brady told Jim Gray of Westwood One’s Monday Night Football, “I just met him a week ago. He’s working to learn. He’s working to [learn] how we do things.” Brady’s attitude towards Gordon’s chances of being ready on Sunday against the Dolphins seemed less than optimistic.
This would be Gordon’s first career game against the Dolphins.
Heading into week four, James White shouldn’t be the leading targeted receiver. Chris Hogan did not look like a solid second wide receiver in week three, but to his defense, the offense as a whole looked pretty third-tier. Hogan has a rather up-and-down history against the Dolphins but had some serious struggles in Miami last season without Edelman on the field to draw coverage.
It may be time to give Cordarrelle Patterson some more looks in the receiving game. In limited looks, he’s been relatively sure-handed and his yards after catch average is comparable to those of staple receivers. Sure, Patterson was brought on as a gadget-play receiver. But the greatest trick Patterson ever pulled was convincing the NFL he couldn’t play wideout.
Working on Third Downs
The Patriots have been one of the worst teams in the league on third downs through the first three weeks of the season. More than 20 times this season, Brady has tried to get the ball to the receiver, and he’s succeeded in less than half of those attempts. Hogan and Dorsett have been the biggest offenders.
Between the two of them, their third-down incompletion total surpasses the total number of targets Patterson has seen this season. Granted, the Patriots might have more success converting on third down against the Dolphins, who stand as one of the worse defenses in the league on third down.
Last Word on Week Four Receiving
The Patriots receiving corps has an uphill battle this week against one of the better cornerback groupings in the AFC East. Dorsett has to hit a hard reset this week to bounce back from his weak performance in Detroit, but McDaniels has to help out his receiver with better playcalling. Hogan and Dorsett need to find their hands this week and make those key catches on third down. Without these improvements, the Patriots may fall victim to a Dolphins squad and slip even further toward the bottom of the AFC East.
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