By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The football season is long, I understand that. And between offseason workouts, minicamp, training camp, and preseason, there’s a lot of time to fill. Someone’s got to talk about something. Oh, add in the bye week? That’s a lot of empty space to fill. We all understand.
Yet even with that being established, I can’t for the life of me figure out what in the world is taking place regarding the Ongoing Chris Hogan Story™.
The Ongoing Chris Hogan Story™ involves a heightened level of alarm regarding the receiver’s lack of production this season (23 receptions, 333 yards, 2 TDs) and particularly of late (zero catches on four total targets in the last two games). This lack of production from Chris Hogan has got the people talking.
They’re talking about it on the radio, and they’re writing about it on the internet. (Perhaps they’re writing about it in newspapers as well. That rumor remains unconfirmed.)
“What’s keeping the ball away from Chris Hogan?” Jeff Howe asks on The Athletic.
“Why aren’t the Patriots throwing to Chris Hogan more?” Nora Princiotti ponders at The Boston Globe.
“Chris Hogan confident despite drop in production” Kevin Duffy notes at the Herald.
“Chris Hogan staying upbeat despite lack of recent production” Mike Reiss dutifully detailed at ESPN.
Big story, eh? Everyone’s got it covered.
Again, it’s all well and good, but you must admit, this wall-to-wall coverage and the burgeoning consternation about the production dip for Chris Hogan is a bit strange. This is, after all, Chris Hogan that we’re talking about.
That’s not to say Chris Hogan is a bum, or anything of the sort. He’s certainly an NFL wide receiver. He’s got good hands. Decent size. Good speed. Solid down-field route runner. Seems to know his stuff. Good player.
Chris Hogan’s single-season high for receptions is … 41. And that was a mark he set in … 2014 … as a member of the Buffalo Bills.
His single-season high for receptions as a member of the Patriots is 38, set in 2016. In his first two years in New Engalnd, he’s averaged 36 receptions. He’s currently on pace for 37 in 2018.
Hogan set a career high for receiving yards in 2016 with 680. His average in his other four full seasons is 412 yards. He’s currently on pace for 533 yards.
Hogan averaged three touchdown receptions per year in his first five seasons. As a member of the Patriots, he caught four in 2016 and five in 2017. He’s caught two this year. He can get to four before halftime on Sunday, if things fall a certain way.
Obviously, all of those “on pace” numbers become meaningless if Hogan continues to get zero receptions on Sundays. But two weeks without a catch probably doesn’t warrant this level of alarm.
Last year in the regular season, Chris Hogan had a total of zero 100-yard games. In fact, he had zero 80-yard games. He caught just one pass in three separate games. That low production continued through two weeks in the postseason, when he caught a combined three passes for a combined 24 yards against Tennessee and Jacksonville. That didn’t stop Hogan from catching six passes for 128 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl.
A year prior, Hogan did have a trio of big games during the regular season — four for 114 at Cleveland, four for 91 with a touchdown in his return to Buffalo, five for 129 and a score against Baltimore on a Monday night — but also had plenty of duds. He had two games with zero catches (on five total targets) and he had four games with just one lone catch.
Interestingly enough, in New England’s regular-season visit to Pittsburgh in 2016, Hogan only caught two passes for 25 yards. And as you might remember, when Pittsburgh made the trek to Foxboro for the AFC title game, Hogan caught nine balls for 180 yards and two touchdowns in what was for sure the greatest game of his life.
While that was a massive night for Hogan, you also might recall that he wasn’t exactly doing anything particularly special to create all that offense. A wise Patriots writer shared this photo after the game:
And these two:
That was a common theme of that night in Foxboro: Chris Hogan being left completely uncovered for big gains. It was bizarre.
Of course, credit to Hogan for finding space, making catches, and executing some big-time plays on a big-time stage.
Two weeks later in Super Bowl LI, when Tom Brady threw for 466 yards, Hogan accounted for just 57 of them.
So you can kind of zoom out on the scenario, and it’s pretty clear and obvious that Chris Hogan is good for an outburst or two every now and again, but it’s not out of the norm for that productivity to dip a bit for a week or two at a time.
While some might have foreseen an uptick in production from Hogan, given the recent absences of Rob Gronkowski and Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead. But making such an assumption would require an overlooking of Hogan’s game. He’s not really a receiver who beats man coverage consistently. He’s actually someone who benefits more from more weapons being on the field with him. He’s not really a receiver who feasts when other highly targeted guys are missing.
Do you know who has handled the Ongoing Chris Hogan Story™ very well? Bill Belichick has handled the Ongoing Chris Hogan Story™ very well. He was asked about the recent downturn in targets for Hogan this week on a conference call. He replied with some sass.
“It’s the same thing every week,” Belichick replied. “Each week we pick out a player that doesn’t have as many carries or targets or whatever, and then ask about that. As I said, in the passing game, passes aren’t designed to go to one person. It’s a team route based on the coverage and the matchups. Tom goes to where he feels is the best place to go in the coverage. I don’t really see that changing. I think Tom does a good job with that. That could easily change in a hurry if the coverage is different on the same play. The ball could go to somebody different than who it went to in the game. We talk about this every week. Just pick out a different guy and it’s the same question and it’s the same answer.”
That’s a guy who’s not buying in to the Ongoing Chris Hogan Story™.
So that’s that. The Ongoing Chris Hogan Story™. It’s a bit baffling. And whether or not it continues this Sunday, or whether Hogan “breaks out” with a five-catch, 100-yard afternoon against the very-bad New York Jets, it will nevertheless remain a bit difficult to make complete sense of this Ongoing Chris Hogan Story™.