Attacking the Pack: New England Patriots Wide Receivers Week Nine Report

Patriots Wide Receivers
BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 29: Julian Edelman #11 of the New England Patriots runs with the ball during NFL game action against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field on October 29, 2018 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Tom Brady versus Aaron Rodgers is set to be one of the greatest quarterback match-ups in the modern era, with Brady and Rodgers trying their best to out nice-guy the other. But a handy-man can only work with the tools that he’s given, and the New England Patriots wide receivers have to be the best they can be if the Patriots hope to come away with a win.

Edelman to Headline, Gordon and Hogan to Support in Week Nine

Packers Defensive Outlook

Unfortunately, there is not a whole lot of goods news for the Patriots on the Packers injury report this week. Jaire Alexander, the Packers team leader in passes defended, appeared on the injury report earlier this week with a groin injury but participated fully on Thursday.

The Packers did trade away star safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to the Washington Redskins in exchange for a 2019 fourth-round pick. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will have his hands full trying to replace Clinton-Dix’s versatility with Josh Jones and Jermaine Whitehead.

Below the Surface

The Packers allowed two touchdowns to receivers last week against Jared Goff and the world-beater Los Angeles Rams, both to former Texas A&M Aggie Josh Reynolds.

Against the mystifying C.J. Beathard and the San Francisco 49ers, the Packers also allowed two touchdowns to receivers, both to Marquise Goodwin.

Facing the Detroit Lions, again, two touchdowns to receivers, one to Marvin Jones and one to Kenny Golladay.

There’s something to be said for consistency, I guess. Clearly, there is some magic to be had against the Packers secondary for receivers on a muddy depth chart.  Since Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs in week two, Golladay is the only player to lead the receiving corps in targets and find the end zone against the Pack. Goodwin leads Pierre Garcon in touchdowns and yards but trails behind him in targets and receptions. Reynolds has taken a backseat to the Robert Woods – Cooper Kupp – Brandin Cooks receiver trio all season until Kupp’s recent injury.

What does this mean?

Does that mean that Phillip Dorsett and Chris Hogan can shine again?

Not exactly. According to Football Outsiders, the Packers are ranked 25th in DVOA against number one wide receivers, 20th against number two wide receivers, and 14th against the rest of the receiving depth chart. Football Outsiders includes a disclaimer that their “decision of which receiver is ‘number one’ and which receiver is ‘number two’ is somewhat subjective,” but the Patriots have a pretty clear division between the Josh Gordon/Julian Edelman tandem and the rest of the depth chart.

For the last few weeks, Josh Gordon has been touted as a receiving savant and the answer to the offense’s prayers. Yes, sure, Gordon has shown the ability to get yards after the catch. The problem is catching. Gordon has the worst catch rate among Patriots wide receivers. In recent weeks, he has dropped several passes right in the sweet spot from Brady. Gordon is going to draw some close coverage from Green Bay’s secondary, and Brady is going to have to spread the wealth a little more than he has in recent weeks. Suffice it to say, this will not be a 100-yard receiving game for Gordon.

But Brady spreading the ball around does bode well for Hogan, who saw two targets last week against the Buffalo Bills. Hogan is the clear favorite on the roster over Dorsett, who failed to see any targets last week. If you’re holding out hope that Hogan finds the end zone again, this might be the week for it to happen.

An Edelman Explosion, Then?

For the last couple of games, the Patriots have been facing pass rushes that rank somewhere in the league’s top ten. Understandably, Brady has been buying high on dump-off passes to Edelman and James White. The Packers also feature a top-ten pass rush, led by their highly-graded linebackers and emergent defensive lineman Kenny Clark.

So, yes, Edelman has the potential to be the top targeted receiver yet again, with White likely to lead the offense in targets as well.

According to Football Outsiders, the Packers are below the league average in defending against passes of 15 yards or less, just shades worse than the Patriots, in fact. Breaking that down further, the Packers struggle the most at defending against short passes to the left. Edelman should see some success on some quick out routes this week.

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