Josh Gordon could open up Patriots red zone offense in Week 3

New England Patriots

The New England Patriots shocked the NFL by trading a conditional late-round pick to the Cleveland Browns for wide receiver Josh Gordon, who could make his debut for the Pats as early as Week 3.

Off to a 1-1 start after failing to defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 2, the New England Patriots will look to teach the Detroit Lions a lesson in Week 3 after struggling against young quarterback Blake Bortles. The Jaguars were able to get revenge on the Patriots for last season’s AFC Championship Game, and there’s also a personal angle for Detroit, given that Lions head coach Matt Patricia used to be New England’s defensive coordinator.

Although he isn’t expected to start after just being acquired from the Cleveland Browns, new wide receiver Josh Gordon may be able to suit up for the Patriots on Sunday.

According to Yahoo! Sports fantasy writer Brad Evans, long-time ESPN Boston beat writer Mike Reiss stated on SiriusXM Radio that he believes Gordon will be able to get some playing time in Week 3. While Gordon isn’t expected to start or receive a lion’s share of the snaps on the outside, the dynamic Baylor product could make his debut in “limited packages”.

Since Gordon is 6’3″, 225 pounds and caught a decisive touchdown reception in the Browns Week 1 tie against the Pittsburg Steelers, it sounds like those “limited packages” could involve high-leverage plays on third down and in the red zone.

Through two weeks, the Patriots have struggled in the red zone, which is generally uncharacteristic of a team that features weapons like Rob Gronkowski. With Julian Edelman suspended, the Patriots have turned more to Chris Hogan in the red zone, and he delivered in Week 2 with two touchdown receptions.

However, Tom Brady is 5-for-11 on the season inside the opponent’s 20, according to stats compiled by Pro-Football Reference. This means that Brady is 24th among quarterbacks in red zone completion percentage, if you use five passes attempted in the red zone as a minimum number to qualify for placement on this list.

Brady and the Patriots are capable of being more efficient in the red zone through the air, even without Gordon’s help. But having Gordon, especially in Edelman’s absence, could give them a major boost against a Lions team that will know plenty about the Pats offense with Patricia calling the shots defensively.

Gordon isn’t just a big target who demands respect from defensive backs in the end zone, but he’s also a valuable decoy who can make life easier for Philip Dorsett, Gronk, Hogan, James White, and any of the other pass-catchers on the Patriots who are threats to score. Since Brady loves spreading the wealth, everyone on the Patriots offense is capable of scoring in that area of the field, which means any attention Gordon can divert from the other pass-catchers could prove to be immense.

The Patriots offense is one of the league’s most precise when it comes to what receivers are asked to do. They must be on the same page as Brady, because any slight deviation from the planned route or any poor decision on the wide receiver’s part could result in them losing Brady’s trust. In high-leverage situations like in the red zone, mistakes are only going to be more difficult to forgive.

That is an important caveat to keep in mind when projecting Gordon’s role in Week 3. He won’t have much time to study the Patriots playbook or get on the same page as Brady, which explains the limited role. There will likely be special plays specifically developed for Gordon, or they could just trot him out there on, say, red zone plays without any intent to target him. He’ll just be there to draw attention from defensive players so he doesn’t run the risk of making a lapse of judgment due to his lack of familiarity with the offense.

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It’s a situation to watch closely, and Gordon’s potential involvement in the Patriots offense will be one of Week 3’s biggest storylines. The Patriots offense will have a much easier time against the Lions defense than they did against the Jaguars defense, and any uptick in red zone efficiency as a result of Gordon’s presence would be greatly appreciated by New England.

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