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Aqib Talib vs. Josh Gordon the key matchup in Patriots vs. Browns

Posted by Erik Frenz  December 6, 2013 07:00 AM

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If the New England Patriots are going to beat the Cleveland Browns, the game plan on defense starts with doing what no team has done in over a month: contain wide receiver Josh Gordon.

Their best bet is to put cornerback Aqib Talib on him in coverage, and double him over the top with a safety.

At 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, Gordon has both the size and speed that often draws comparison to other high-profile receivers around the NFL.

"He reminds you of those names, the Calvin Johnsons, the Andre Johnsons, a bigger guy with little-guy speed and quickness," said Talib. "He can turn the eight-yard curl into a touchdown in a heartbeat, so definitely a challenge."

In the past, the Patriots have been very good at taking away an opponent's best weapon. That has held especially true this year of receivers facing Talib, but Gordon feels he is up to the challenge.

"I’m pretty sure he’ll make some plays, but I’m definitely going to make more plays,'' said Gordon, according to The Plain Dealer.

And why shouldn't he be confident? He's been making plays for weeks, and last week became the first receiver in NFL history with back-to-back 200-yard games. There hasn't been a lot that's changed for Gordon to bring about his sudden string of strong performances.

"You see the same things all year," said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. "The plays he's made the last couple weeks are the same plays he's made all year. He's a great player. He can attack all three levels of the defense. He can run through them, he can take the short plays, catch-and-run plays, crossing patterns, look patterns, plays like that, quick three-step drops and break tackles. He's very good on the intermediate routes, the in-cuts, the crossing routes, comebacks, stop-routes, things like that that attack the middle levels of the defense."

He has a selection of routes he runs well, and for the most part, you know what to expect from Gordon. Defensive backs have to stay honest to Gordon's speed, and he has the quickness to take advantage of extra space when he is given a cushion.

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One of Gordon's better routes is the intermediate curl. Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor gave Gordon (circled in yellow) a 10-yard cushion off the line of scrimmage. This is the situation defensive backs have been forced into because of all the big plays Gordon has made already in his young career.

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Gordon quickly ate up the cushion, and turned to look for the ball as soon as his quarterback had begun his throwing motion. Taylor is attacking the receiver by the time the ball gets there, but Gordon quickly turns the corner and scoots around Taylor, then toward the sideline where he's finally met by safety Troy Polamalu, but not before gaining 42 yards on the play.

The quickness to make a defender miss in the open field, and then the speed to make him pay once you get past him? That's gotta be difficult for a defensive back.

"Yeah, I mean, [when] you get a guy [that's] 235 pounds running like he's 35 pounds, I mean, that's a definite challenge, man," said Talib.

It's a challenge that shouldn't be given to just one man. The Patriots would be wise to put a lid on the top of whatever coverage they have on his side of the field, to ensure that there's nothing going over their head. That's where safety Devin McCourty comes into play. It will take a disciplined game from McCourty to make sure that Gordon is accounted for when he hits the second level of the defense.

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Gordon ran a slick double-move against the Minnesota Vikings in his first game back from a two-game suspension. The defense showed a two-deep look, but they only had one safety covering deep. Appropriately, it was the safety shaded to Gordon's side of the field.

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However, this play might not have gone for a touchdown if that safety had stayed disciplined. He stopped reading the quarterback, instead reading the routes on the left side of the field. If he had kept his eyes on the passer, as is the duty of a deep safety, he would have seen Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer staring down Gordon on the left side.

Unfortunately, he didn't realize until it was too late.

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Give Gordon a lot of credit for setting up this route so beautifully. He looked as if he was going to stop and turn toward the quarterback, but just as soon as he had taken his foot off the gas, he put the pedal to the metal and raced right behind the cornerback unhindered for the score.

Gordon is just one of the Browns' playmakers on offense -- although they only have a couple others in tight end Jordan Cameron and wide receiver Greg Little. Their biggest question mark, however, remains the lack of a playmaker at the most important position on the roster. Heck, forget about a playmaking quarterback, the Browns probably just wish they had more than one healthy quarterback.

Belichick says it won't affect the Browns gameplan -- "Their offense is their offense," he said on Wednesday -- and if this season is any indication, it won't affect "Flash" Gordon, either.




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About the author

Erik Frenz delivers analysis of the biggest news with the Patriots, including insight into the AFC East and New England's biggest rivals from a Patriots perspective. Erik is an interactive writer who engages his audience in his posts’ comments sections and on Twitter. Readers are encouraged to share their thoughts and ask questions. More »

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