Why Josh Gordon might have a head start joining ‘sophisticated’ Patriots offense

"If he picks it up, man you better look out in New England."

Josh Gordon, Chris Hogan
Josh Gordon and Chris Hogan at Patriots practice. –AP Photo/Steven Senne

Of all the hurdles that Josh Gordon immediately faces with the Patriots, one of the most daunting (at least on a football level) is simply learning the offense.

What seems like such an obvious and straightforward box to check as a football player is anything but when it comes to New England. And the 27-year-old receiver – acquired in a trade from the Browns earlier this week – faces a steep learning curve to master offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ system.

“It’s very hard, man. It takes some time,” said former Patriots receiver Randy Moss on ESPN prior to Monday Night Football. “You look at what Chad Ochocinco wasn’t able to do, and now you’re bringing in another receiver – and I’m not saying that they’re similar, but Josh McDaniels runs a very sophisticated offense.”

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That said, Moss – who set the single season record for touchdown catches in McDaniels’ offense in 2007 – understands what Gordon could do if he actually did learn the playbook.

“If he picks it up, man you better look out in New England.”

Skepticism about Gordon’s ability to learn the offense has less to do with him than New England and its history. There’s a long list of very competent players who, for whatever reason, simply couldn’t do it.

As Moss mentioned, one of the most prominent examples was Chad Johnson (formerly Chad Ochocinco). The veteran arrived with great expectations in 2011, but failed to make an impact and was released after the season. The reported issue was that he never figured out the playbook.

It’s more than just learning plays, as then-Patriots receiver Brandon LaFell explained in 2014. It’s about constantly being on the same page with perfectionist quarterback Tom Brady.

“He expects you to be exactly where he wants you to be every route,” said LaFell. “Not a yard off, not a yard too deep, not a yard too short. He expects you to be exactly where he wants you to be because he’s going to put the ball placement exactly right.”

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LaFell also listed the other schematic components that each receiver has to know, including formations (“We’ve got a million formations”), learning the play-calling terminology, as well as the code words that can have wildly different meanings.

With the terminology, Gordon might actually have an easier time on some of the uptake. As Patriots radio broadcaster (and former quarterback) Scott Zolak pointed out, Gordon is coming from a Browns offense that’s derived from the same system as McDaniels’s scheme.

The Erhardt-Perkins offensive school, which Belichick (and earlier Patriots coordinator Charlie Weis) took from their time working under Bill Parcells, relies on “concepts” for each side of the field. It was a system designed to streamline terminology (using only a few words to convey plays and routes to a whole offense).

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Of course, Gordon will still have an enormous amount to learn, but any familiarity should help his acclimation, especially in the short term.

The Patriots offense focuses on – and actively works to create – mismatches with the opposing defense. Gordon, one of the league’s best athletes at his position, is potentially a game-breaking mismatch for Brady to throw to.

If he can familiarize himself with the offense – a scheme he may have some basic knowledge of already – New England fans might see some of his vast potential translate into big plays.

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