So, to get a better idea of what to expect from Randy Moss, I elected to take advantage of my subscription to the invaluable Game Rewind on NFL.com and watch every pass this year where Moss was targeted.
This isn't a full breakdown of Moss's play this year. I didn't watch a single running play, or any play where the ball was thrown in the direction of another wide receiver. I also can't necessarily say much about the team's overall coverage scheme; I know the Patriots were bracketing him fairly consistently with a safety over the top of a corner, but that's not always apparent from the broadcast and I didn't necessarily watch each play repeatedly.
What I saw, after the jump
New England Patriots Tenure
1. Deep post, double covered, thrown too far by Brady
2. Quick screen, with Welker blocking downfield, complete for 9 yards
3. Short in, complete against off coverage for 5 yards
4. Fly pattern, single coverage against safety (zone?), incomplete (some contact, should've been caught)
5. Stop route, complete against off coverage, CB Joseph misses tackle 5 yards downfield and play gets 32
6. Stop route, complete against close coverage but no jam for 4 yards
7. Comeback, juggled by Moss on sidelines and incomplete
8. Medium in, complete against off coverage for 9 yards
1. Deep post, double covered, incomplete in back of end zone (some contact, pass not handled cleanly)
2. Post, single coverage with Revis, incomplete after Moss short-arms it despite inside position
3. Stop route, complete against off coverage for 4 yards on 3&3
4. Dig(?), out of motion into a stack behind Hernandez, runs an intermediate route toward far sideline, pass thrown behind him, Brady visibly frustrated-expected Moss to cut off route and sit in middle?
5. Quick slant, single coverage against Revis, incomplete (some contact but should've been caught)
6. Deep post, single coverage with Revis, complete for 34 yard TD with spectacular one-handed grab
7. Jump ball/deep fade, single coverage with Cromartie, Moss tips imprecise pass which is intercepted by S Pool after tip
8. Post-corner(?), single coverage with Cromartie, incomplete but Cromartie flagged for illegal contact
9. Fly pattern, single coverage with Cromartie plus safety help, incomplete-overthrown, Moss stutter-step to bother Cromartie may have slowed him down
10. Stop route, single coverage with Cromartie, incomplete 9 yards downfield as Cromartie didn't bite on deep move
1. Post, single coverage, left open after corner and safety both bite on play-fake, complete for 7 yard TD
2. In, single coverage, incomplete, good chuck against off coverage and open 10 yards downfield against McKelvin but ball thrown behind him and McKelvin recovers to disrupt play
3. Deep post, front man in stack with Welker, single coverage, complete for 35 yard TD
1. Back shoulder fade, fake spike play, single coverage against Davis, dropped
Constants: Moss well wide of formation, mostly off coverage (exception: Jets) and not giving him a jam at the line of scrimmage, nothing over the middle.
Minnesota Vikings Tenure
1. Fly pattern, single tight coverage against Cromartie, broken up by Cromartie, uncalled illegal contact
2. Fly pattern, single tight coverage against Cromartie plus safety help, pass underthrown after Favre hit in motion
3. Stop route, front man in stack with Harvin, catches ball 7 yards downfield on 2&5 and turtles
4. Deep post, single tight coverage against Cromartie, ball slightly underthrown and broken up by Cromartie
5. In, single coverage against Cromartie, breaks off route while Favre scrambling and Cromartie doesn't realize, complete for 16 on 3&15
6. Jump ball, single coverage against Cromartie, Revis breaks up pass 12 yards downfield
7. Fly pattern, single coverage against Cromartie, runs past Cromartie playing off, complete for 37 yard TD
8. Fly pattern, single coverage against Cromartie, incomplete, Moss flagged for OPI
9. Fly pattern, single coverage against Cromartie, incomplete, ball slightly underthrown and Moss can't catch it
10. Fly pattern/deep fade, single coverage against Cromartie, overthrown
11. Scramble drill, single coverage against Cromartie, good route adjustment after Favre scramble, complete for 21 yards
1. In, single coverage against Jenkins, complete for 11 yards and turtles
2. Stop route, complete against off coverage for 9 yards (including 3 YAC)
3. Stop route, complete against off coverage for 12 yards (including 5 YAC)
4. Zone buster, fake quick hitch to draw up corner playing off coverage, complete 18 yards downfield in front of safety in zone void
5. Stop route, complete against off coverage for 5 yards on 3&3
6. Jump ball, incomplete against bracket double coverage (some contact, could've been caught)
1. Miscommunication, incomplete after fake quick hitch-Favre throws slant but Moss is running upfield and not looking for the ball
2. Bow out, second man in stack behind Harvin, complete for 13 yards
3. Deep fade, zone, complete for 49 yards but Moss flagged for OPI for body-positioning against S Collins
4. Short out/scramble drill, single coverage by LB, pick-6 on ill-advised pass
5. In, complete for 4 yard TD on 3&2, Harvin picks defender
6. In, single coverage, complete for 13 yards on 4&5
7. ?, zone bracket coverage, incomplete on throw away out of end zone
8. Bow out/scramble drill, incomplete on overthrown in back of end zone on 4&15
1. In, coverage?, incomplete on throw away out of end zone
2. Slant-ish, single coverage, complete for 8 yards on slow-developing slnat
Overview: Moss generally wide of the formation, broader mix of off and tight coverage, little actual physical jamming on him, lack of chemistry clear.
Overall, Moss ran a greater diversity of routes than I was expecting. He actually ran a little bit more on the in-breaking routes and over the middle with the Vikings than he did with the Patriots. Most of the passes thrown his way, though, were from the numbers outside or more than 20 yards downfield. I didn't see many quick slants, general in routes, or the short or intermediate dig or general crossing routes.
One area of major concern I have is that his spectacular one-handed TD catch against the Jets was a pretty big anomaly. There were many more passes he could have caught that he did not; yes, he got hit or there was a defender, but contact seemed to bother him and disrupt his concentration. After Britt's ability to make catches in traffic, I'm disappointed by seeing that. He also seemed to perform better against off coverage than tight coverage, even if there wasn't a physical jam. Just general physical proximity to defenders makes him less effective.
Moss lined up on both sides. As I mentioned in both overviews, he typically lined up to the far side of the formation, and typically as a split end rather than as a flanker. A couple out of the Pats plays were out of triple tight end sets, but few of them seemed to feature the two-TE sets the Titans like to run. That's probably more the result of the Pats' and Vikings' offensive preferences-when the Pats have 2 TEs in the game, they normally flex one or both of them out. One thing I'd look for the Titans to do is play Moss wide to a single side and try to overload the other side of the formation-that can force teams to show their coverage pre-snap, and Heimerdinger can probably make effective use of route combinations on the non-Moss side.
I would say on the whole I feel roughly the same about the Moss acquisition after doing this little project as I did before it: he'll be useful, but it's more an upgrade on what Nate Washington brings to the table. I think there's a real change Gage starts when he returns from his injury, simply because he runs the kind of routes the Titans like that Moss doesn't or isn't very effective at and is also a good run blocker. I think the Titans lose a little bit in terms of versatility from replacing Britt with Moss, and as FO colleague Bill Barnwell points out in this ESPN In$ider article, Britt's been more productive on those deep throws this year. I said 9-7 when I was on MCM radio to spout FO stats, and stand by that call.