The New England Patriots offense has not looked like its usual self in the past couple of weeks. While the Patriots are 6-1 in their last seven games, their lone loss was one of the ugliest in recent memory. The Tennessee Titans beat the Patriots, 34-10, in large part due to the offense just not moving the ball all game long. With quarterback Tom Brady locking on Josh Gordon and Julian Edelman throughout the game, many are calling for the head of seemingly unproductive wide receiver Chris Hogan.
Hogan was blanked in the Patriots Week 10 loss, seeing just one target the whole game. While some might logically jump to the conclusion that Hogan just isn’t getting the job done, it’s not quite as simple as that. The underlying numbers suggest Hogan is doing everything in his power to keep this offense going, but the connection just hasn’t been there. Finding a way to utilize Hogan – and thus take pressure off Gordon and Edelman – should be priority number one for the Patriots over the bye week.
Chris Hogan Not the Problem In New England Patriots Offense
This article was originally intended to be a piece on why the Patriots would be better off using Phillip Dorsett as the third wide receiver. While they still should try to give Dorsett a bigger role in the passing game, Chris Hogan is far from a lost cause. Despite his underwhelming season-long 23 receptions for 333 yards and two scores, the third-year Patriot is actually doing a lot of things right that don’t show up on the stat sheet.
For one, he’s getting open. Hogan’s only seeing 3.5 targets per game, so the logical conclusion is that he’s simply not getting separation. However, the film and the stats don’t back that up. Per NFL Next Gen Stats, Hogan averages 3.3 yards of separation per route run. This number is only 0.1 yard less than Edelman’s 3.4 yards of separation and is the exact same number as Phillip Dorsett. Josh Gordon’s average yards of separation is a shockingly low 1.9, third-worst in the league.
If you’re looking for a specific example of Hogan getting open, look no further than this clip provided by CLSN’s own Evan Lazar. This was a crucial play in the game, and Hogan did his job by getting open for a big gain. The only problem is, Tom Brady didn’t look his way. You can’t blame Hogan for this, as he did his job perfectly.
Wrote about this in my ten things and here's the all-22. 4th down play with 10:53 remaining. Hogan at the bottom of the screen vs. Butler has a TD on the double-move if Brady sees it, instead forces it to Edelman over the middle. Sums up Brady's day. #Patriots pic.twitter.com/1ptjKvPHmQ
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) November 12, 2018
This play is far from an isolated incident. For whatever reason, the trust between Brady and Hogan just hasn’t been there this year. Hogan struggled out of the gate but has bounced back in recent weeks. Despite Hogan’s improved play, Brady isn’t giving Hogan the chance to redeem himself on the field.
How Can the Patriots Use Hogan
Josh Gordon’s previously mentioned 1.9 yards of separation is partially due to defenses putting extra attention on the talented wideout. Right now, teams know that the ball is either going to Gordon, Edelman, or James White. Hogan is doing everything he can to take some attention away, but defenses will never react until Brady and Hogan finally start connecting.
The best way to get Hogan and Brady on the same page is going back to what worked in the past. According to Sharp Football Stats, 80% of Hogan’s targets this season have come within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage. While Hogan has been somewhat successful with these shorter targets, this isn’t the best way to use a player who led the league in yards per reception back in 2016.
Hogan was a productive third option for the Patriots back in 2016 and 2017. Part of the reason for Hogan’s success was the Patriots worked him all over the field. In Hogan’s first two years with the Patriots, Tom Brady looked his way 156 times. Of those 156 attempts, 54 went 15 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Hogan excelled with these opportunities in 2016, recording a 145 passer rating when targeted deep. While his production dipped a bit in 2017 (70 passer rating), that was likely due to the fact teams were putting more focus on him.
Without Julian Edelman to make teams respect the underneath game, opposing defenses put their focus on taking away the deep part of the field. With Edelman back and Brandin Cooks gone, Hogan should be able to produce closer to his 2016 form.
For some reason, the Patriots have completely ignored Hogan deep. As previously mentioned, New England just isn’t looking Hogan’s way in the deep passing game. As shown from the clip above, Hogan hasn’t lost the ability to get open down deep down the sideline, Brady just hasn’t been pulling the trigger. Because of this, defenses are comfortable leaving Hogan on an island and cheating in on Edelman, Gordon, and White.
Hogan is getting in position to make plays, Brady just needs to start slinging it deep. Once he does that and the duo connects, the rest of the field will start to open up for the superstars.
Last Word on Chris Hogan
The Patriots offense simply cannot win a Super Bowl if Tom Brady continues to exclusively force feed Josh Gordon and Julian Edelman. New England needs to incorporate Hogan into the offense, as he still has the skills that made him a reliable third weapon in 2016 and 2017.
Hogan is still getting open, Tom Brady just isn’t targeting him, especially in the deep part of the field. In 2016 and 2017, nearly 35% of Hogan’s targets were 15 yards past the line of scrimmage. This year, only 20% of his targets have gone 15 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
Getting Hogan involved won’t magically fix everything that went wrong in the Patriots lopsided loss to the Titans. New England should still look into getting Phillip Dorsett more involved in the passing game. However, improving Tom Brady and Chris Hogan’s connection should be the top priority over the bye week. Once defenses start respecting Hogan, the rest of the field will open up for the Patriots offense.