Fresh off the heels of an embarrassing loss to the Houston Texans by the score of 23-7, the Browns received some positive news. Wide receiver Josh Gordon was reinstated Monday Nov. 17, following his 10-game suspension for failing an NFL drug test. Browns’ players will welcome the superstar wide receiver back into the lineup with open arms, including Brian Hoyer. On Monday, Hoyer spoke to reporters about expectations for Gordon earlier this week.
“I think everybody has high expectations for him. In the same sense, Just realize he hasn’t done any football-related activities with the team in 10 weeks. That’s a long time. Obviously we’re excited to get him back and get him out there on the field. I can’t wait until Wednesday rolls around and I get a chance to go out there and throw to him. … “
It remains to be seen how Gordon will impact the chemistry of the Browns’ offense, but at this juncture, they need all the help they can get. The Browns have had difficulty moving the chains, particularly when the run game is ineffective. The Browns have relied on explosive plays off of play action all season.
With the run game struggling more often than not since Alex Mack’s injury, the Browns need a receiver that can consistently gain separation from defensive backs without relying heavily on play action. If there’s one thing we know about Josh Gordon, it’s that he definitely knows how to separate quickly.
Gordon’s presence will also open up the Browns’ other weapons on offense, as he is not the type of player defensive coordinators feel comfortable leaving singled up in man coverage.
Listed below are five things to expect with Josh Gordon’s return to the field:
1. Josh Gordon Must Play His Way in to Shape
By all accounts, Gordon has done everything possible to stay in shape during his suspension. He’s been at the facility working out, but obviously has been unable to practice with the team. The Browns will get a better feel for his conditioning today, however being in football shape is a completely separate matter. The Browns will need to allow Gordon to play his way into football shape, and Browns’ head coach Mike Pettine is well aware of the challenges he faces with regards to his stamina and ability to assimilate to the offense.
“You’re looking at upwards of 80 days [missed]. Like I said, we will be very smart. Josh is an elite receiver. He’s proven that, but we just, again, have to be very smart with how we handle it.”
2. Less Cover-2
If the Browns place Jordan Cameron and Gordon on the same side of the field, that places opposing safeties in a bind that defensive coordinators would prefer to avoid. If Cameron is able to sneak down the seam, and Gordon is on a vertical route as well, that would force the safety to choose which player to defend. Provided Hoyer has time to throw, either way, the play-side safety is going to be wrong.
3. Taylor Gabriel Will Contribute More on Punt and Kickoff Returns
The Browns have not faired well on punt and kickoff returns this season, but they have an ace up their sleeve that they’re prepared to unveil soon. The Browns could’ve hit the panic button and signed Joshua Cribbs, but they elected not to do so and for good reason. Taylor Gabriel is more than capable of fulfilling the aforementioned roles on special teams, and will likely see more action as a return man with Gordon being reinserted into the lineup. Gabriel will still get quality reps on downs, but expect an increased role on special teams as well.
4. Simplified Reads for Brian Hoyer
Hoyer (who is typically a quick decision-maker) will have larger windows to throw in as a result of Gordon’s presence. If the opposition chooses to play man coverage against Gordon, he’ll likely be the first option. If Gordon is doubled, it’s safe to say someone else will be running free. When asked about Gordon’s return, Hoyer intimated that the Texans had success because they were able to play the same defense successfully through out the game.
“… They played us consistently the same way all day and that’s what won them the game. … Now we’ve got Josh back; there’s no more excuses. …”
With Gordon in the lineup, opposing defenses will certainly have to mix up coverage more than they have been against the Browns.
5. Room to Run
If the Browns show that they are capable of throwing on early downs, it would go a long way toward creating openings in the run game. Contrary to popular belief, opposing defenses that have had success against the Browns are not committing extra defenders to stop the run. If the Browns utilize high-low route combinations with Cameron and Gordon, particularly on early downs, that would certainly help get linebackers and safeties off balance and affect their ability to fill gaps successfully.
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