I know that summer has barely reached its midpoint, and we haven't even played the baseball All-Star game yet, but with the Yankees sucking (playing mostly lackluster ball), and I having attended a cookout where a couple of grade school football coaches were already getting excited about starting pratice in a couple weeks, I guess I'm kind of in a football state of mind this morning. For some reason, I got up thinking once again that this Randy Moss to the New England Patriots thing is not going to work out.
Why is this important? Well, it's probably the most talked about trade of the offseason, plus the Patriots are somewhat of rivals with my beloved Buffalo Bills (who might be skipping town in a couple years, but that's another story.) Patriots play the Bills twice a year and have forever, so, I'm somewhat familiar with the franchise and also interested in what sort of team they will have.
A lot of the focus on this trade has been on how Moss' personality is going to fit in with the Patriots. This is mostly bullshit of course. Patriots coach Bill Belichick doesn't fool around, and if Moss is a malingerer (a term my father-in-law used to love to use), he will be gone. His contract is structured in such a way that the Pats can do this.
The more intriguing issue, from my view, is whether or not Moss will fit in with the Patriots offense. If you remember, Moss was famous for telling the Vikings to find someone who can overthrow him, so he had time to run under the ball-or something along those lines. With the Vikings, he played with strong-armed QBs like Cunningham, Jeff George, and Culpepper, an incredible run, and of course, Denny Green liked to air it out. It's my contention that Brady is not that type of quarterback.
I started trying to prove this theory by going to the numbers. I thought that stats like yards per attempt (YPA) and yards per completion (which is actually much harder to find and I had to figure it out myself) would bear out my contention. But the fact is they did not. Drew Bledsoe, for instanace, who I always consider a great long-ball thrower from personal observation, never ranked higher than eighth in YPA, and was only in the top 10 three times in more than 10 years as a starter.
Yes, in Moss' years with the Vikings, his quarterbacks averaged something like eight yards per attempt, and were in the top five in the NFL in YPA five out of seven years. In contrast, Tom Brady, who has been a starter for six years, has never ranked in the top five in YPA, but he has ranked between eight and 10 four times. This is really not that huge of a difference, and perhaps, we can attribute what difference there is direclty to Moss. After all, Vikings quarterback Duante Culpepper dropped from second in the league in yards per attempt at 8.6 in 2004 (his last year with Moss) to out of the top 10, with a 7.2 YPA average in 2005, his first year without Moss. (It also should be noted that Culpepper's career also went south when Moss left the Vikings, and he has not, as of yet recovered.) In fact, Brady, at 7.8 YPA, actually ranked ahead of Culpepper in 2005. (I thought perhaps that Culpepper's yards per completion might be higher because he might be getting more distance on the passes he completed vs. Brady's having a higher completion percentage, but that wasn't the case. Interestingly, when I ran YPA numbers vs. yards per completion, the ratios and rankings pretty much remained the same. Now, maybe if you go back to old school bombers like Lamonica, Bradshaw, and Namath, who generally had lower completion percentages than today's quarterbacks, the YPA vs. yards per completion ratio changes when comparing them to modern quarterbacks...)
So, I guess my first conclusion is that Moss should elevate Brady into the top five in YPA numbers in 2007. If he doesn't, he probably isn't doing his job.
Okay, so let's move onto more subjective material. Mainly, is Tom Brady a deep ball thrower that will be able to use Moss to his fullest and enable the Moss acquisition to benefit his team? There seems to be mixed opinions on Brady's arm strength, but my contention, after years of watching him, is, no, he is not a great deep ball thrower. Here's a write-up on Brady from before the 2000 draft when he was taken in like the fifth or sixth round:
"Pocket passer who has the arm strength to split zones...Very effective on quick slants...Can torch defenses once he gets into rhythm...Has a good feel for spotting his alternate receivers... Puts good zip behind his short tosses and can drill the long sideline throws..."
That concurs pretty much with my observations of him. Brady throws a great mid-range ball, very accurate, with good zip. And he can go over-the-top after defenses start cheating on his mid-range and shorter throws. This is what makes him an effective long-ball thrower-not the pure over-the-top arm strength of a George, a Culpepper or a Cunningham. Brady's like a pitcher whose location and ability to throw a change-up now and then makes his fastball that much more effective. It's my opinion that Moss doesn't fit into this type of offense, as he lacks the discipline to effectively run the mid-range routes that set up Brady's home run balls.
As a result, Moss is not due for a big year numberswise, because the Pats' offense is not set up to feature the type of receiver he is. Brady is not attuned to throwing numerous deep balls and letting Moss go up and get them-which is basically what they seemed to do in Minnesota. It's my prediction that unless Moss evolves into a Paul Warfield-type personality (which I'm not saying couldn't happen), he's going to be unhappy in New England, and it will show up in his play on the field.
If you remember, Warfield was an All-Pro with the Dolphins because he was such a deadly deep threat. However, in five years on the Dolphins, Warfield only caught more than 30 balls in a season once, although he did average more than 20 yards per catch. Warfield, who was a consummate pro, I'm assuming was a good blocker and ran out all his patterns (Shula would accept no less I think), even when he wasn't involved in the play, which contribtued to the Dolphins pair of Super Bowl titles. Moss' history hasn't shown he has the discipline to do this kind of stuff. Of course, maybe the Patriots' coaching staff will get Moss to change his attitute, but it's going to take a lot of work, and it's my opinion that he's not worth the effort the Patriots will need to put in. (I ran this piece in January, as to why I don't think the Patriots have won a Super Bowl in the past couple years, after winning three in four years, and I think the Moss' signing is indicative of the reasons why and will help prevent the Pats from winning this year's Big Prize as well. Of course, the Pats also miss Charlie Weiss, who is a great coach and would perhaps be able to figure out how to best utilize Moss in their offense.)
I'll just conclude by saying that although the Patriots don't run a true West Coast offense (I think they run something closer to the Mike Martz mid-range-based passing game), the West Coast offense has really changed the game. When I was trying to come up with teams that Moss would be a good fit for, I came up with the Colts and Bengals, two teams with strong-armed quarterbacks who consistently can get the ball deep. I think J.P. Losman may fall into this categorey as well, but he's a bit raw and the Bills already have Evans to run the deep routes. Ironically, the Raiders, for whom Moss famously failed, supposedly like to throw the ball deep, but unfortunately haven't had a quarterback (or an offense, I guess) who could do that effectively since Jeff George in the mid-199os. Funny thing is, this JaMarcus Russell, who they just drafted number one is rumored to have a gun, and it would have been interesting to see if he could have developed a Culpepper-type relationship with Moss. Alas, these things are why the Raiders suck anymore...
But, suffice to say that Montana and Walsh have changed the game to such a significant extent that a player like Moss is now a dinasour. Same as Drew Bledsoe became. Funny, I would have loved to have seen Moss work with Bledsoe, instead of Owens last year, but, hell, why do I know all this stuff that NFL execs can't figure out?