Patriots Throw Gordon Curveball at Patricia’s Lions
By Karen Guregian
Let the Josh Gordon mind games begin. Will the just acquired wide receiver play Sunday in Detroit? Or will his debut with the Patriots be a different week?
That’s what Matt Patricia will be asking himself a million times over as he attempts to prepare his defense for the game.
Patricia thought he might be facing his old team with all of this inside knowledge. After all, he’s gone up against the Patriots offense every day in practice for the past seven years as their defensive coordinator. That has to mean something. He knows Tom Brady and how he thinks. He knows Rob Gronkowski and how to cover him. He knows James White’s favorite third down routes.
But of course, Bill Belichick had to throw him a curveball. And Gordon is quite the Uncle Charlie.
Does he play? On Tuesday, Belichick wouldn’t even acknowledge his existence with the media, even though the team sent out a release the previous day acknowledging they had in fact made a trade with the Browns for the receiver.
“We’re at the same place we were with him yesterday. We’re in the process of working through it,” Belichick said when asked about the receiver. “We’ll just have to see how it goes.”
Maybe Belichick is just adding to the suspense.
Because the minute Gordon steps on the field, whether he fully knows the Patriots offense or not, Patricia has to respect his ability to stretch the field. He has to respect his talent. He can’t treat him as just some regular Joe lined up wide.
While Patricia might know every little detail of the Patriots offense, he doesn’t know how Josh McDaniels might employ his newest toy.
More to the point, just the presence of Gordon, if he plays, opens things up for everyone else. Just having him run down the field will make it a lot easier for everyone else. He will attract a top corner, which will allow Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett to see the No. 2 and 3 corners of opposing teams. Gordon might also attract safety attention, which would free up Gronkowski from the double teams he’s been seeing.
During a conference call Tuesday, McDaniels discussed the advantages of having a perimeter threat.
“The more difficult you can make it on the defense, the harder you are to defend. We’re always trying to do that in any way shape or form we can,” said McDaniels. “We want to be complementary with our scheme. Run the ball inside and outside. Throw it inside and outside. Throw it horizontally and vertically. As much as we can do that to try to avoid becoming predictable, that’s what we’d like to do.”
Bad enough Patricia’s defensive unit has allowed an average of 39 points per game in the first two games, which is tied with the Bills for worst in the league. As it is, the Lions are having a hard enough time stopping the run. They are the NFL’s worst at that, too. Now, Patricia has to deal with this unexpected twist.
“They don’t know how they’re going to use Josh Gordon, or if they’re going to use him at all,” said ESPN analyst Damien Woody. “He could be inactive. If you’re the Patriots, you put it out there that he’s going to play, so you make Patricia have to prepare for him. It’s all mind games and ways to get an edge. He knows he’s going to have to deal with Gronk, but now you have to possibly deal with Josh Gordon being lined up out there. It keeps the Lions guessing. That’s a plus from New England’s perspective.”
It’s doubtful Gordon will grasp the playbook in a week. Certainly not the Patriots playbook and all its intricacies. But maybe they’ll be able to simplify a few things for him, isolate him on a few plays or come up with a small package of plays just so they can have him out there to impact the defense.
“If he plays (against Detroit) there could be times he’s just out there as a decoy, just to help free somebody else, or get somebody else open,” said Woody. “But if he’s active, I’m sure they’ll take a shot or two at Josh Gordon because he’s that talented.”
Gordon has averaged 17.3 yards per reception during his checkered career. So he has big-play ability.
Right now, Patricia doesn’t know if Gordon is going to buy in or even want to play for the Patriots. He doesn’t know if the gamble is going to pay off for Belichick, who is desperate for receiver help.
Patricia just knows it’s one more wrinkle added to the mix for his injured, struggling defensive unit to worry about in trying to stop Brady.
“I’m sure Matt will do a great job of having them prepared for us,” said Belichick. “He’ll game plan us the way he always does, the best way he can match up with his team against whatever he perceives our challenges to be. ... You might have to ask him what those are.”