Patriots-Vikings Film Review: Why Josh Gordon’s Sparing Usage Was Smart


New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady stayed patient in Sunday’s win over the Minnesota Vikings. And it drove fans crazy.

Patriots fans likely were screaming at their TV, begging Brady to take advantage of a Vikings squad shallow at cornerback, as Trae Waynes was out with a concussion while a hamstring injury limited fellow starter Xavier Rhodes. Despite that, the Patriots quarterback attempted just one pass over 20 yards all game.

But that was a smart move by Brady, who wisely wasn’t interested in frequently testing Minnesota safety Harrison Smith. The Vikings also weren’t going to let Rob Gronkowski or Josh Gordon beat them down the field, so they stayed in a two-high safety defensive look for most of the game.

The lone deep throw went to wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson on a well-timed pass off play action on first-and-15 early in the third quarter. Brady caught Smith trailing Patterson with inside leverage.

Patterson ran his route outside, Smith had to turn and couldn’t catch up to the speedy receiver. Patterson caught a shoestring catch for 29 yards.

Because the Vikings were so frequently playing two-high safeties, Brady and the Patriots dinked and dunked down the field through most of the first three quarters. The Patriots had some success on throws to running back James White and wide receivers Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan but only put up 10 points.

Brady finally threw to Gordon when the Vikings blitzed their slot cornerback late in the third quarter. Smith dropped down to cover wide receiver Julian Edelman, leaving Anthony Harris as their lone deep safety.

Gordon ran a curl route, caught Brady’s pass, slipped a tackle from cornerback Marcus Sherels and picked up 24 yards.

Gordon was targeted again two plays later. The Vikings were in a Cover-2, and linebacker Eric Kendricks didn’t get deep enough into the middle of the field.

Gordon ran a slant route and then threaded Smith and Harris for the touchdown.

The Patriots’ play design turned Smith’s attention toward tight end Jacob Hollister, running a corner route. Harris didn’t do a good enough job of tracking Gordon into the middle of the field.

Gordon was targeted twice more. He drew a 20-yard pass interference penalty when the Vikings were in a single-high look. He also caught a screen pass inside the red zone that went for 10 yards to the 2-yard line. The Patriots scored another touchdown two plays later.

Gordon didn’t get a ton of attention from Brady on Sunday. But the Patriots used him wisely, and he was the spark plug that broke the game open for the Patriots.

Brady only targeted outside wide receivers six times all game. He completed five of those passes for 92 yards with a touchdown for a perfect 158.3 passer rating.

Here are some other notes from our film review:

— Cornerback Jason McCourty and linebacker Kyle Van Noy consistently stood out with open-field tackling. Their coverage stats bore this out. McCourty let up 3.6 yards per target. Van Noy allowed 2.7 yards per target.

— Gronkowski really didn’t look like himself this week. I’ve been reluctant to join the crowd doubting Gronkowski this year. Sunday did it for me, though. His blocking was tough to watch at times, and he still doesn’t look as fast or strong as he once did. We’ve waited for Gronkowski to look like his vintage self since Week 1. It hasn’t happened, and his back and ankle ailments were actually removed from the injury report this week. Maybe Brady was hesitant to target Gronkowski with Smith patrolling the deep half of the field, but this has now been going on for 12 weeks of a 13-week season.

— The Patriots’ secondary had perhaps its finest performance of the season. Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty were fantastic in locking down Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Duron Harmon had an interception. He and Devin McCourty chipped in to help Jason McCourty on Thielen. JC Jackson limited the Vikings’ No. 3 receivers in the first start of his career, and even Jonathan Jones had an interception in just two snaps.

— It was a good week to write about left tackle Trent Brown. He neutralized Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen. Right tackle Marcus Cannon was solid against Danielle Hunter too.

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