New England Patriots Need a New Hero to Replace Josh Gordon

Josh Gordon
FOXBOROUGH, MA - DECEMBER 02: Josh Gordon #10 of the New England Patriots reacts after scoring a touchdown during the third quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Gillette Stadium on December 2, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

Josh Gordon has decided to step away from football to focus on his mental health. With the New England Patriots‘ flashy, after-the-catch star scrubbed from the marquee in Week 16, the team will have to make some serious adjustments and revisit some fading faces.

Josh Gordon Exits Stage Right: Phillip Dorsett and Chris Hogan Waiting in the Wings

Buffalo Bills Defensive Outlook

The Buffalo Bills injury report on Wednesday was long, but all but two of the 10 players listed practiced in some capacity. Cornerback Ryan Lewis and defensive tackle Kyle Williams missed Wednesday’s practice.

Lewis has not made significant contributions on defense since early in the season, so even if the concussion holds and he does not appear in this contest, his presence will not make or break the Bills.

In their last three games, the Bills have allowed four touchdowns to wide receivers, and two of those came in Week 13 against the Dolphins. The Bills have been stingy against receivers this season and currently lead the league in receiving defense. Through Week 15, the Bills allowed a league-low 200.6 receiving yards per game. Production through the air will be hard to come by in this game.

Lazarus of Foxboro

Followers of this column this season will know that I have been extremely high on Phillip Dorsett and rather low on Gordon. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I thought Tom Brady was being unnecessarily reliant on Gordon — to the team’s detriment.

With Gordon out of the main cast, I see no reason for Josh McDaniels to continue writing Dorsett out of the script. Dorsett is proven in the short/intermediate game. In the first two games of the season, Dorsett caught 12 of 14 targets for 110 yards and a touchdown.

Granted, 110 yards over two games is not an impressive statistic, but Dorsett catches the ball when it’s thrown to him. Dorsett has caught 11 of his last 11 targets. It is an absolute shame that Dorsett has not seen as much action over the last few weeks, especially given the Patriots offensive struggles against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

According to Sharp Football Statistics, Dorsett is the Patriots best wide receiver short-left with nine successful plays on 11 attempts. Unfortunately for Dorsett, Buffalo is just a hair better than the league average in terms of DVOA in that area of the field. While this isn’t necessarily indicating that Buffalo is going to shut down Dorsett, it will be tough sledding for the second-year Patriot.

Hogan the Hero, Part Two

The news is not much better for Hogan this week. Hogan sees most of his success short-middle, with seven successful plays on nine attempts according to Sharp Football Statistics. Buffalo’s defense has the second-best DVOA in the league at defending against receivers in this area of the field. In week eight, Hogan saw no short targets at all, but he did see two successful shots deep.

This is where Buffalo has deficiencies in DVOA. Buffalo is well below the league average in defending against deep passes left and middle.

Given how poorly Dorsett performed when playing the deep man against the Detroit Lions, it is more likely that Hogan and Rob Gronkowski are tasked with stretching the field and/or drawing coverage away from Julian Edelman underneath. Hogan has been a shell of the receiver he used to be, but he has some big-play potential in this game.

Last Word on Week 16

The fact of the matter is that the Patriots won two games at the beginning of the season without Edelman and Gordon and then won a third with Gordon seeing extremely limited action. Spreading the ball around is going to be key.

With the exception of Kenny Golladay‘s 146-yard game, Adam Thielen‘s 105-yard game and Edelman’s 104-yard game, the Bills have prevented single receivers from heating up and running roughshod over them. Edelman was unstoppable in Week Eight, catching nine of 10 targets to top the 100-yard mark. Whether he can do it again now that the Bills have that game tape is a different story, but the Patriots will be playing angry after last week’s stall-out against Pittsburgh.

Moving Forward

The Patriots are once again facing a hole at wide receiver. The loss of Gordon is going to push Dorsett back into the rotation and increase the number of passes that James White and Sony Michel see in the next few weeks. We could see some increased involvement with James Develin in the passing game in screens out of the backfield. Maybe Dwayne Allen will even catch one.

Damoun Patterson and Riley McCarron are the Patriots two practice squad receivers, and McCarron has struggled to stay healthy this season. If the Patriots were to bring in a free agent to pad the roster, the pickings are rather slim. Kamar AikenJeremy Kerley and Brandon Marshall headline the list of unsigned free agents.

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