BEREA — Josh Gordon is listed with the first team on the depth chart and figures to start Sunday in New Orleans … no questions asked.
Now all coach Hue Jackson, coordinator Todd Haley and quarterback Tyrod Taylor must figure out is how to get him the ball more than once.
Haley inserting Gordon into the starting lineup for the opener after Jackson was adamant it wouldn’t happen remains a point of confusion, but the more important mystery is how a receiver as talented as Gordon was targeted only three times in 69 snaps in the 21-21 tie with the Steelers.
“I went out there and served my purpose that I was supposed to do, whether it be distracting the safety to get somebody else open,” Gordon said Wednesday. “I don’t even think about the targets until somebody mentioned it at the end of the game, but I was just going to keep on running until I got the opportunity.”
They were few and far between, as Taylor threw his way only four times, all in the second half. Near the end of the third quarter, Gordon was one-on-one with former Browns cornerback Joe Haden on a post route in the end zone that ended in an incompletion after Haden hit Gordon early across the helmet.
“Definitely pass interference,” he said.
Early in the fourth quarter cornerback Artie Burns was called for pass interference on a pass to Gordon down the sideline, so it didn’t count as an official target. The acrobatic catch on the goal line off the head of cornerback Cameron Sutton came with 1:58 left and tied the game.
“The play that he made is the plays you expect him to make,” running back Duke Johnson said. “Nothing more, nothing less than that. But those plays he has to make for us. Definitely looking forward to see more.”
The final target came with 23 seconds left in regulation and a chance to steal a victory. Taylor’s pass down the sideline was underthrown and Sutton intercepted it when Gordon couldn’t get back to the ball.
“Sometimes physics can take over,” he said.
The bottom line: three official targets, one catch for a touchdown.
“We can do a better job of getting him the ball and getting him opportunities to make plays,” Taylor said. “That starts with myself.”
“I do not think there is a hold-up,” Jackson said. “I can’t go back and undo the Pittsburgh game. What we can do is move forward, and we have to put the ball in our guys’ hands this week and give them an opportunity to make plays. That is what the offense is designed to do, and that is what we are going to try and accomplish.”
Gordon said the Steelers used bracket coverage — a form of a double team — to discourage Taylor from throwing his way. The extra attention improved opportunities for receiver Jarvis Landry, tight end David Njoku and the running game.
“If that was the case, then I have no issue with it,” Gordon said.
Despite being the focus of the Pittsburgh defense, Gordon was left in single coverage plenty of times. Taylor was unwilling, or unable, to take advantage of the opportunity but Gordon said if given the same looks by the Saints the Browns can capitalize.
“Definitely. I wish there were a couple ones we could get back,” Gordon said.
“There were some chances, and there were some chances where we have to do a better job of running the routes — not just Josh, I think all of our receivers,” Jackson said. “As an offensive unit, it is a thing that we have to continue to work through, and understand that when the opportunities present themselves, we have a chance to make those plays.”
The offense managed just one touchdown after six takeaways by the defense and sustained only one drive. Gordon said the biggest jump for NFL teams is from Week 1 to Week 2.
“We’ve got to take off in a big way,” he said.
He believes the Saints defense is susceptible after the Buccaneers went into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and upset the Saints 48-40 last week.
“It looks as though they got exploited a little bit,” Gordon said. “As an offense watching film, you have to see exactly what mistakes were made on their part that we could try to exploit, as well. And it’s going to take this week of practice and diligence to make sure we key in on those.”
Gordon played in an opener for the first time since his rookie season of 2012. The 69 snaps were more than expected but he held up well.
“It was good to get that experience and that feeling underneath me, it’s good for my body to feel that,” he said. “I feel great now, I felt great during the game, it was just good to see that my motor was at a decent point at that late in the game.”
The start continues to be a topic of conversation. Gordon said he was “definitely surprised” he played the first snap after Jackson’s public statements to the contrary after Gordon missed the first three weeks of training camp. Jackson said a starting spot must be earned, then Haley sent out Gordon as part of a three-tight end package.
Gordon said he heard a coach mention the possibility during pregame.
“That didn’t really make sense at the time,” he said. “And then right before the offense went out, they told me to go out there.”
Taylor said he’s still building chemistry with Gordon.
“Learning his speed each and every day so that we can be better at connecting, of course, on the deep ball because those plays spring open our offense and ultimately put points on the board,” he said.
The next step is more involvement for Gordon.
“No doubt,” Jackson said. “Josh, when he is going like we know he can, he has an opportunity to make plays. He has to continue to work to be in the right spot. We have to give him opportunities, and I think that we will do that.”