The first thing that new Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner did after taking the job, according to general manager Rick Spielman, was “put in 10 plays for” second-year wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson as he “was putting the X’s and O’s part of it together.”
But it will be interesting to see just how much Turner’s X’s and O’s will differ from when Bill Musgrave was scribbling the plays on a whiteboard. It’s convenient to say that Patterson will become the next Josh Gordon, but Patterson and Gordon were used much differently in 2013.
Despite a shaky quarterback situation that was not dissimilar to the one here, Gordon in his second NFL season exploded with 87 catches for a NFL-best 1,646 yards -- in 14 games, no less -- and nine touchdowns with Turner calling the plays for the Cleveland Browns. Only seven wide-outs were targeted more often.
Meanwhile, Patterson, who impressed in limited reps as a rookie, was targeted 72 times, according to Pro Football Focus, and caught 45 passes for 469 yards and four touchdowns.
Nearly two-thirds of Patterson’s targets came within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, and a whopping 22 of them came on passes behind the line. Patterson caught 19 of those for 248 yards and a touchdown. He had 16 catches for 102 yards on 24 targets that were less than 10 yards from the line of scrimmage. Only one of his touchdowns was caught beyond 10 yards.
Quarterback play was perhaps as big of a factor as offensive scheme. Christian Ponder had enough arm strength to make deep throws but not often the poise and the clean pocket needed to complete them, and Matt Cassel doesn’t exactly have a cannon either.
Regardless, good things happened when the Vikings got Patterson the ball as quickly as possible and let him do his thing, as I witnessed firsthand while covering the Ravens last December.
Patterson broke 10 tackles as a receiver, according to Pro Football Focus, with 286 yards after the catch. His 6.4 YAC average ranked seventh in the NFL. Gordon, by the way, was sixth.
But Gordon did most of his damage downfield in Norv Turner’s vertical passing attack. More than 55 percent of his targets came when he was 10 yards or more past the line of scrimmage, and only Torrey Smith and A.J. Green were targeted beyond 20 yards more often. With just two targets behind the line of scrimmage, Gordon was rarely utilized in the screen game.
So while both receivers liked up at the “X” receiver or “split end” position -- here’s a helpful guide on the different receiver positions -- in their respective offenses, they played much different roles (well, once Patterson started to be utilized in Musgrave’s offense, that is).
Patterson has the size and speeded needed to thrive in a vertical passing attack, so it’s going to be fun to watch him attempt to develop into an all-around receiver like Gordon. It will be also interesting to see how often Turner tries to take advantage of what Patterson already can do.