Saturday, September 16, 2006

Week Four Looms Large for Randy Moss

The NFL's first week gave us plenty to think and talk about. Will the Seahawks figure out how to block without Steve Hutchinson? Is Chad Pennington for real? Why are the Packers signing Koren Robinson? And, of course, why do so many players have mohawks?

However, some of the biggest and scariest questions surround the new laughingstock of the NFL, the Oakland Raiders. Will they ever score a point? Will they set football back 10 years or 20? And will Art Shell ever blink? Against San Diego, the Raiders couldn't block, couldn't game plan (how about throwing a screen pass?), and made no adjustments whatsoever. I guess that is what happens when you bring in a retread quarterback, throw together a patchwork offensive line, and hire a head coach and offensive coordinator that have both been out of the game for a decade.

Now, what ultimately happens to the Raiders isn't that big of a deal, unless you are part of Raider Nation. But I can't help wonder what is going to become of Randy Moss. Just a few years ago Moss was one of the most interesting players in the NFL - the type of guy that would hit traffic cops with his car, walk off the field during the game, sport a sweet afro, and, of course, catch ridiculously deep touchdown passes. In fact, Moss is not only an enigma of a personality, he's arguably the greatest deep threat to ever don a uniform.

Now? He's mired in Bead and Breakfast Hell (a nod to offensive coordinator Tom Walsh, who was running a B&B until he got the phone call to come dissect uber-sophisticated NFL defenses - that might, just might have been a mistake). The danger here is that Moss is just going to fade away, become irrelevant. Setting aside whether that is a good thing or a bad thing, the big question is: will it happen?

Moss caught four passes for 47 yards in the Monday night opener, which served as a red flag, especially considering the fact that he has owned Monday Night Football in the past. Moss is the kind of guy that always thrived when the lights were brightest. On Monday he barely got a chance to participate, with Oakland reduced to throwing him successive swing passes just to get him the ball. In fact, you could argue that Moss' future actually lies in the hands of others. If Shell and Walsh keep sending him out on 25-yard patterns that require Brooks to take a seven-step drop, we can just end the discussion right now. It will never work. They will have to start running some screen passes and slants to loosen things up. Whether the geniuses on Oakland's staff figure that out is probably a 50/50 proposition. But even if they do construct a better offense, Moss still has to do his part.

So ... will Randy bounce back? To answer that question, let's look back at how he has responded to adversity in the recent past.

From 2002-2005, Moss strayed from his usual outstanding play and threw up a "poor" performance (fewer than 60 receiving yards) 20 times. It might be surprising to learn that Moss has fallen short of 60 receiving yards in over a third of his total games during that four-year stretch, but it is important to note that he still found the end zone in many of those contests and almost always served as a deep threat to open up the offense. That said, any team with Randy Moss is going to be more effective when he's going for 150 yards than when he's tallying 47.

Of those 20 "poor" performances, we are going to focus on the 11 that occurred either at the start of the season or popped up amidst a string of good performances (the other nine were attached to the initial outlier performances, as you will see in just a moment). In other words, these are the 11 games when Moss was suddenly faced with the adversity that comes on the heels of a disappointing performance. How he responded to those contests is what interests me.

After those 11 "poor" games (I realize this is a rather arbitrary determination of a poor game, but bear with me) only one time did he immediately bounce back with a Randy Moss kind of game (100 yards or more). That was when he came back from a tough outing against Green Bay and hung 113 yards and two scores on New Orleans. On a whopping seven occasions it was the second game when he got back on track. One instance, in 2004, it took him four games to find the range. And last year he had those horrible stretches where it took him five games and seven games to break out Vintage Moss.

The question is whether or not we can throw last year out of the analysis. On one hand, Moss played hurt most of the season and barely resembled the Randy Moss we were used to. On the other hand, he was a Raider, which is what he is now. And arguably, his situation is even worse than it was a year ago - Aaron Brooks is more mobile than Kerry Collins, but for one week, that didn't translate into more time for Randy to run his deep routes. He's stuck in an archaic offensive system with a mediocre (at best) quarterback and a horrible offensive line. Combine that with some of his recent negative comments and it seems possible that the old Randy Moss is long gone. It could be that last year's rough stretches are exactly what we should be looking at when trying to predict this season.

However, if last year is not the correct proxy - regardless of the wide receiver's attitude and dire team situation - then it seems highly likely that Moss will be getting back on track in week four in a home game against Cleveland. After all, from 2002-2004, Moss suffered a setback in the form of a poor game nine times and on seven occasions, he came back with a more typical Randy Moss performance exactly two games later. He was almost robotic in his consistency, enjoying his "rebound game" during the second week 78% of the time.

So, what is it going to be? Is Randy Moss still the game's most dangerous deep threat - a guy capable of beating double and triple teams and making everyone around him better? A guy that always seems to take one step back, only to shake the cobwebs, absorb all the doubts, and then sprint two step forwards? A guy that history tells us is nearly a mortal lock to get his 100 yards against Cleveland in Week Four? Or is Moss now doomed in the Silver and Black, ready to point fingers and accept defeat?

If you ask me, that game against the Browns is looming pretty large right about now. That is, if you even care about Randy Moss in the first place. But that's a whole separate question, isn't it?


Anonymous said...

Nobody is asking you. Maybe it's the second rate analysis.

Anonymous said...

I am a football fan and enjoy good journalism about the Raiders, whether positive, or negative. By good journalism I mean factual, well organized, flowing articles that introduce provocative perspectives on football related issues. One would expect this type of quality in articles written by professional journalists, but you must be different. Your article about Moss was thoughtless, based upon the same regurgitated information that we hear about Randy every season. I guess that makes your approach to the profession of journalism thoughtless and uninspiring, right? Or maybe you enjoy inspiring naptime.

What a joke. Take your job seriously and dig up some quality information.

Adam Hoff said...

A) I'm not a journalist, I write humor and opinion blogs about sports.

B) I'm merely looking at Moss' past to see if there are predictors as to when he bounces back. In fact, there are. Be usually comes back strong two weeks later. As far as I know, I am the first person to figure this out. How that is regurgitated info is beyond me.

C) You are obviously a Raiders fan, which explains a lot. Hey, if my team looked like Oakland did on Monday, I would spend all my time roaming around the internet leaving rude comments as well. So no hard feelings. Hopefully things turn around for you.

Joe W. said...

If Moss goes over a 100 yards next week, I am recommending you for employment with the Psychic Friends Network. He had another poor game, just as you/the numbers predicted. So far, so good. (For you, not for Randy, or that douche bag Raiders fan who left the comments above.)

By the way, Oakland is officially the worst team I've ever seen. If I was a Raiders fan, I would hide all my gear, talk nothing but World Cup, and claim that "futbol" is the pure game. Cut all ties with the NFL and do it quickly.