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Can Ravens Slow Josh Gordon?

All-22 view of Josh Gordon of the Browns.
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Fresh off a Sunday night loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in which the Baltimore Ravens defense allowed over 500 passing yards and over 200 yards to just Antonio Brown alone, the last thing the secondary needs is another elite wide receiver to attempt to defend.

Unfortunately for the Jimmy Smith-less Ravens secondary, Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns includes a matchup with Josh Gordon. The 6’3″ speedster is playing in just his third game of the season after a multi-year suspension, but based off the last two weeks, Gordon still poses a serious threat to Brandon Carr and Marlon Humphrey.

With seven catches for 154 yards and a touchdown so far, it is safe to say Gordon looks the part of a player who in 2014 was primed to be one of the NFL’s next young stars.

For the Ravens, Sunday afternoon’s game may ultimately be decided by whether or not Gordon can be maintained. The Baltimore offense should score enough points to position the team to win, and the Ravens run defense should be able to keep the Cleveland run game at bay. But in the passing game, no player is more of threat to Baltimore’s chances of winning than Gordon. If Gordon breaks free for a few big plays, it may be enough to swing the game in Cleveland’s direction, or at least make the final score a bit too close for Ravens fans’ comfort.

Let’s go back to last week’s near-win for Gordon and Co. against the Green Bay Packers, and look at how he could be able to carve up Baltimore’s secondary.

On Gordon’s first touchdown of the season, he showed an ability to sift through zone coverage and find a sweet spot in the defense. Off the snap, Gordon works out of the slot.

As his quarterback DeShone Kizer drops back, Gordon works his way down the seam and notices the middle of the field open up.

It is early in the Kizer-Gordon story, but the rookie quarterback seems to already have a good rapport with his star receiver, as he anticipates Gordon breaking open between the two safeties.

Gordon runs a route that allows him to sneak past the linebackers and cut underneath of the two deep safeties, and as Kizer releases the ball, Gordon positions himself in the soft spot in the middle of the Packers defenders, making for an easy touchdown grab.

What could prove to be concerning for the Baltimore secondary is that Kizer – despite all of his struggles so far this season – seems to be more than on the same page with Gordon. The two click in rhythm like a duo that has been playing together more than just two games, which could signal trouble for the Ravens.

Particularly on one-on-one plays, Gordon and Kizer can pick apart the defense. Here, Kizer has Gordon isolated outside, which is a dream scenario before the snap.

Gordon uses his quick feet to send the cornerback toward the outside, before breaking back inside and toward his quarterback.

This is simply textbook footwork by Gordon as his first two steps off the snap allow him to gain separation in a confined space. Because the cornerback has no safety help, he has to respect Gordon’s deep speed, which leads to him overcompensating for a vertical route, allowing Gordon to gain positioning inside.

The simple quick movement by Gordon gives him ample space on the slant, making for an easily anticipated throw and completion for Kizer.

The Browns offense figures to be predicated on getting the ball to Gordon early and often on Sunday against the Ravens. Weaknesses in Baltimore’s secondary were exposed in Pittsburgh, and it would be naive to think Gordon won’t see plenty of balls thrown his way at different levels of the field.

Baltimore’s best bet will be to have the more lengthy and agile Humphrey shadow Gordon as much as possible instead of Carr. Gordon may only be playing his third game in three years on Sunday, but it would be an understatement to say that he is the biggest threat to Baltimore’s chances of winning in Cleveland.

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