Josh Gordon has been the New England Patriots’ second-most productive pass-catcher this season, his 221 receiving yards through four games just a hair behind Julian Edelman’s 226 for the team lead.
Gordon has the potential for much greater production, however, which offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels hopes to find a way of unlocking.
The veteran wide receiver has caught just 14 of his 27 targets from quarterback Tom Brady this season — a 51.9 percent catch rate that ranks 47th among the 51 NFL players with 25-plus targets. Every Patriots player has caught at least 65 percent of his targets except Gordon and running back Sony Michel (one target, zero catches).
In Sunday’s 16-10 win over the Buffalo Bills, Gordon finished with three catches on seven targets for 46 yards with one drop.
McDaniels said he’s been pleased with the way Gordon has worked to expand his role in his return from the suspension that prematurely ended his 2018 season. He put the onus on himself to get the wideout more involved in New England’s offense.
“Josh is doing well,” McDaniels said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters. “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. And 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.
“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 and whatever the peak is for us this year. We’re certainly not there yet. We have a lot of work and a lot of practice to put in to reach that. But I’m very happy with what Josh has done.”
Part of this will be on Gordon himself, though. The 28-year-old still doesn’t look entirely in sync with Brady after missing all of training camp, and his three drops over the last two weeks have raised eyebrows. Against the New York Jets in Week 3, Gordon caught just one of his first five targets before breaking out with two highlight-reel catches in the second half.
Gordon also suffered multiple injuries during that Jets game that might have hindered him against the Bills.
While McDaniels and head coach Bill Belichick both downplayed Gordon’s low reception percentage, pointing to the various factors like depth of target and quarterback decision-making that can skew that stat, Belichick stressed the need for overall improvement in the Patriots’ passing operation.
“I think every coach and every player and every receiver and every quarterback would love to see the catch rate be 100 percent,” Belichick said. “That’s our goal. But that’s not really realistic in the National Football League, so it is what it is. We just have to evaluate each individual play. …
“(And) 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.”