In the aftermath following the disaster that was Johnny Manziel’s first start...
Cleveland Browns Hope the Return of Josh Gordon Can Energize Lifeless Offense
Many Cleveland Browns fans were excited for the 2013 season to get underway. With the talk of a high powered, down the field attacking offense–fans were expecting big plays, touchdowns and fireworks galore. Instead after the first two weeks of the season, many are scratching their heads wondering if anything has changed since last season, a season that saw the Browns rank 25th in total yards and 24th in scoring. Fear not Browns fans, help is on the way.
In order for big plays to take place, an offense needs a big play maker. For the first two weeks of the season the Browns were missing the latter (as well as the former). This Sunday, Josh Gordon will make his return to the football field and at the risk of sounding overly optimistic, Gordon could very well be the spark plug this team needs to get this offense moving. Can one man really make that much of a difference? Well let’s take a look.
For starters, Gordon was tied for eighth in the league last year in average yards per reception at 16.1 yards. Standing at 6’3” with good down the field speed and reliable hands, Gordon can change the course of a game in one play. Think back to the opener against Miami. Brandon Weeden threw a ball downfield to Travis Benjamin who was in double coverage. The 5’10” Benjamin was unable to high point the ball (albeit a ball that probably shouldn’t have been thrown into double coverage) and the ball was intercepted. Now imagine Gordon in Benjamin’s place, a very real scenario. It’s likely that the much bigger, taller Gordon gets into better position to pull the ball in, bailing out his quarterback.
Gordon’s presence on the field also takes the pressure off of a lot of others.
For starters, Greg Little will no longer be looked at as the big play receiver. In fact, with Gordon’s return and the outstanding receiving play of Jordan Cameron, Little could be looked at as the third receiving option on this offense. This could mean fewer drops for the struggling wide out. The biggest benefactor, however (aside from Weeden), would be Trent Richardson. With Gordon’s return, opposing defenses will be unable to stack the box as frequently to stop the Browns running back, or at least they run the risk of leaving Gordon one on one on the outside of the field if they do.
Now all of these things are hypothetical situations. Richardson might see fewer defenders in the box. Little might be more efficient. Gordon might make big plays down field. Let’s look at something tangible.
According to Pro Football Focus, Weeden had a 90.9 rating (what PFF calls the WR rating) when throwing to Gordon in 2012. That’s the best mark on the team among regular receivers (former Brown Jordan Norwood had a 94 WR rating but only had 13 receptions). What’s more impressive is that Gordon managed this while not being a weekly starter. Gordon managed to lead all Browns receivers in targets (96) despite not being on the field for 75 percent or more of the offensive snaps until Week 5 (when he became a regular starter). For the 2012 season, Gordon saw 78.9 percent of the offensive snaps compared to the 88.1 percent Little saw, yet Gordon still had more targets.
So to put something tangible in summary, Gordon saw fewer snaps than Little but managed a higher WR rating (90.9 vs. 79.7), more targets and most importantly fewer drops (nine drops for Little, only four for Gordon) and a lower drop rate. Think Weeden is looking forward to getting his top target back?
It’s not a secret Gordon is an impact player. While the Browns offensive struggles aren’t solely because Gordon was suspended it certainly didn’t help that he wasn’t on the field. Don’t be surprised if Gordon makes an immediate impact this Sunday against a very suspect Vikings secondary.
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