Look! Down on the field, it’s a bird, it’s a plane! No, it’s Josh Gordon. Coming soon to a football field near you!
Imagine if the Indians had traded for Clayton Kershaw, and didn’t have to give up a single player in return. That’s what it will be like this coming Sunday when the Browns travel to Atlanta to face the division leading 4-6 Falcons. Josh Gordon is making his long awaited and much talked about return after serving his 10-game suspension, for breaking the NFL drug policy. If you have forgotten just how good Josh Gordon is, here is a video from NFL Network, explaining why they rated Gordon the #16 player in 2013.
We all know about the numbers, 87 receptions, an NFL leading 1,646 receiving yards, and 8 touchdowns, while playing in just 14 games in 2013. Not mention that he is the only wide receiver ever to have consecutive 200-yard receiving games. But, in sports the only thing (besides winning) is what have you done for me lately. Besides selling cars at a local Cleveland dealer, Josh Gordon has done nothing in 2014. So what effect will he have on the Browns down the stretch run of the season?
The Browns offense without Josh Gordon this year has put up respectable numbers, but considering many analysts expected the Browns offense to be non-existent without Gordon, I think you can say the Browns are in a pretty good position. The Browns rank 18th in points scored and 14th in yards gained. All that without Gordon, plus a jumbled run game that got worse when Pro-Bowl center Alex Mack was lost for the year with a leg injury. Did I mention that Pro-Bowl tight end Jordan Cameron has missed significant time this year with injury, or that the Browns have exactly one wide receiver taller than 5′ 10” (Miles Austin)?
The Browns offense in 2013 without Josh Gordon averaged 275 total yards in the 2 games Gordon missed and had an 0-2 record. In the 14 games Gordon played in, the Browns offense averaged 348 total yards and had a 4-8 record. That was with a turnstile at the quarterback position of Jason Campbell, Brian Hoyer, and Brandon Weeden. Brian Hoyer led the Browns to 3 (3-0 as the starter, and yes the Buffalo game counts) wins in his time as the starter before tearing his ACL. That being said, Hoyer failed to connect with Gordon in the Buffalo game, so in Gordon’s 2 games with Hoyer throwing him the ball, he averaged 7 receptions, 109 yards, and a touchdown.
Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is known for feeding his #1 receiver. In his 6 seasons prior to coming to Cleveland, Shanahan’s #1 wide receiver averaged 143 targets, 90 receptions, 1,177 yards, and 6 touchdowns, while his #2 receiver has averaged 82 targets, 48 receptions, 675 yards, and 4 touchdowns. He helped Andre Johnson and Pierre Garcon to career years, and would have most likely done the same to Gordon, had Gordon played a full season.
This year with Shanahan running the offense, the Browns have been a run first team. Through their first 10 games, the Browns have run the ball 324 times, good enough for 2nd in the NFL. The run offense has totaled 1,118 yards (15th) and 12 touchdowns (3rd). Compare that to the 2013 season and the Browns ran the ball a total of 348 times all season, and gained 1,383 yards and only 4 touchdowns, which ranked the Browns 27th or lower in all three categories. Meaning that without a competent run game, Josh Gordon was able to put up ridiculous numbers while opposing defenses keyed in on him. In 2014, the return of Gordon should open up both facets of the offense. Teams can no longer stack the box against the Browns, in fear of leaving Gordon in man-to-man coverage, and teams can no longer key in on Gordon because of the potential of a potent run game.
The Browns have also been able to develop two very dependable wide receivers in Gordon’s absence. Undrafted rookie Taylor Gabriel has put up some impressive numbers for a guy who wasn’t even expected to make the team. Gabriel has posted numbers of 29 receptions for 527 yards, and 1 touchdown, while ranking 2nd in the NFL in yards per catch. Then there’s the unheralded wide receiver the Browns trusted a free agent contract to, in Andrew Hawkins. Hawkins came over from Cincinnati, and was projected to play the slot position, but the suspension of Gordon forced Hawkins into the #1 receiver role. Hawkins has played beyond expectations, hauling in 45 passes for 601 yards, and 2 touchdowns. With Gordon’s return, the field will open up for these two, and while they may not put up the same numbers with Gordon in the lineup, they should become a lot more efficient in the passing game.
For those of you who stashed Josh Gordon on your fantasy roster, the time has finally come! The Browns showed that they believe in Josh Gordon, and now it’s time for Gordon to pay off that trust, as he helps the Browns down the stretch run. Hopefully Gordon plays more than 6 games this season, as he should give the Browns the boost the need to make it to the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
— Chris Sladoje (@CST_Doje)
Photo via www.ronan-ncy.deviantart.com