The New England Patriots’ wide receivers had a collectively poor game against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. The group finished the day with just nine combined catches on 25 targets, gaining a mere 86 yards in the process. Josh Gordon, arguably the most talented member of the team’s position depth chart, contributed a position-high 46 yards to the total but still finished the game with just three catches on seven targets.
Adding this game to his season-long totals, Gordon has now caught only 51.9% of the passes thrown his way: he was credited with 27 targets through New England’s first four games of the year, catching 14 of them (for 221 yards and a touchdown). Compared to last year, when he had a catch rate of 57.7%, his numbers have dropped significantly. There is no need to be concerned just yet, however, at least according to the Patriots’ coaching staff.
“I tend not to focus on those types of statistics because there’s so many things that go into those numbers,” said offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels during a conference call on Tuesday. “You know, Josh is doing well. He’s ready to go, he practices well, he practices hard, he really studies the game plan. He’s moved into multiple positions this year, whereas last year he was more in one spot most of the time.”
Indeed, the Patriots have used Gordon a bit differently when compared to last season — his first in the system since the team acquired him via trade from the Cleveland Browns in mid-September. While he played in the slot on just 8.4% of his snaps in 2018, the number has increased to 14.9% so far over the last month. Meanwhile, he also lined up on the right side of the formation more when being split out wide (43.0% versus 36.7%).
“Honestly, I need to do a better job of finding ways to get him the ball throughout the course of the game in whatever role or position that we’re asking him to play,” added McDaniels when speaking about Gordon. “I’m very happy with what he’s doing, and we’re going to continue to work with him and all our skill guys, hopefully as we go through the season, to improve and reach our best performances.”
Bill Belichick, meanwhile, offered a more holistic approach when talking about Gordon’s catch rate. He said that everybody on the team would love for a catch rate to be 100% but that achieving a number like this is simply not realistic in the NFL. Gordon’s past shows this very well: during his All-Pro season in 2013, when he led the league with 1,646 receiving yards, he caught “only” 54.7% of the passes on which he was the intended receiver.
“There’s times where we just have to evaluate each individual player, There’s times where the quarterback’s throwing the ball away or doesn’t really have a chance to complete the pass but rather than take a sack, makes a good play to get rid of the ball and then that’s an incompletion target to that player and so forth,” said Belichick. “But when you look at plays individually you try to improve the individual player or the scheme of the play that falls under the coaching umbrella.”
“Player execution and coaching design and adjustments and so forth, there are things that we can all do to improve our overall passing efficiency at the coaching level, at the throwing level and at the catching level, so we’ll work to do that all the way across the board,” he continued. “Obviously, those passes are a function of the type of pass too, so plays that are further down the field, naturally, have a lower percentage of completion than the ones within a couple of yards of the line of scrimmage.”
Both Belichick and McDaniels stressed that the Patriots’ main objective is to do a better job moving forward and that a number of factors are involved in catch percentages. So while Gordon’s numbers might seem low on paper, drawing conclusions from them is nearly impossible without the proper context that the plays themselves and the situations in which they occur provide.