October 21, 2010

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LONGSHOTS: Greatest deep threat in the history of the universe gathers no Moss
By Dave Long dlong@hippopress.com

Whew!!!! Sure am glad the Patriots were actually able to complete a pass in that game with the Ravens on Sunday. With all the chatter after the departure of Randy Moss, I was really wondering if they’d ever get one again without him there to command double teams and stretch the field. Whew!

Now, I’m not picking on Moss. It’s just that, once again, the hype and angst went around the bend on a story driven by the sky-is-falling drama queens in the media. It had Moss as the greatest deep threat in the history of the universe, and the Patriots’ plight hopeless because they didn’t have Randy’s — you know — double coverage attracting and field stretching skills anymore.

Amid all that non-sense last week I started wondering just how you define the greatest deep threat in the history of the universe anyway and who says Moss is that guy? Well, Jon Gruden said on Monday Night Football he was, and I have respect for what he says. But he’s also relentlessly positive on MNF, so let’s look a little further. Is it just pure speed that scares the bejebbers out of a coordinator? Lifetime yards per catch average? Or maybe it’s, as I generally determine the greatest this or greatest that, how they dominated the era they played in compared to others. Or could it be just that they are bigger, stronger and faster today than in years gone by so the previous generation just can’t compete in the era of 325-pound lineman and more sophisticated, complex strategy?

Countering that, though, are the rule changes. Back in the day, receivers got bumped and ran from pillar to post and it didn’t stop until the ball was in the air and on its way. Today they can get hit for five yards and after that it’s basically 50-50 whether an incompetent ref will give them an interference or holding call — which is an actual strategy the Ravens used in Week 1 to hand the Jets their only loss. That makes it tougher on defenses, as does allowing lineman to do now on every play what would have been holding back in the day. And the penalty then was 15 yards to today’s less onerous 10. Of course defensive lineman in the 1960s like Deacon Jones could basically punch you in the head via the head “slap” as part of their arsenal of moves to get to the QB — so maybe that one evens out.

Then there’s the strategy change, where games are more weighted to emphasize high percentage passing and lower turnovers than in the days when Joe Namath was chucking it up all over the place with little regard for getting picked off. A reason why Joe Willie completed just 50.1 percent of his passes as he threw 173 TD passes and 220 interceptions while for Tom Brady it’s 63.5 percent, 235 TD passes and just 103 interceptions. And they also ran a lot more back in the day and played much more man coverage where you were more susceptible to getting beat by the long one. Today’s it’s five wide sets against two deep zone coverage that discourages going yard all the time as the Raiders did with Cliff Branch and Warren Wells from the 1960s into the ’80s.

All of which makes it harder to actually determine who was the greatest deep threat ever. If you go with best average, he’s waaay down the list. But 185? Not sure how you can be the GREATEST deep threat in the history of the universe when you’re 185th on the all-time yards per catch list. Can you? Where his 15.6 average has him behind a good possession receiver like Steve Largent or Jabbar Gaffney’s father Derrick for crying out loud. He’s also behind Football Night in America announcer Chris Collinsworth, Mark Jackson (not the redundant, overly dramatic ABC hoop announcer, but John Elway’s favorite target in Denver) and even the guy who called his games while in Foxboro, Gino Capelletti. And those guys are way down the list behind all-time leader Wells at 23.1 and even Branch at 17.1 during their days in Oakland. Just behind Wells at 22.3 is Homer Jones — who did scare the bejebbers out of coordinators. He averaged 28.5 and scored 13 TDs in 1966 when he was the last Giant wide receiver to make the Pro Bowl before Steve Smith finally did it in 2009. Heck, Moss is only 60th on the Patriots all-time list and THIRTEEN guys with at least 100 catches are ahead of him. A list of those guys is in today’s glossary.

You say history and changes in the game skew it all and I’ll say you’re probably right. But did you know he’s behind contemporaries like Michael Irvin and James Jett and just sixth among actives behind DeSean Jackson at 17.2, Miles Austin, Greg Jennings, Joey Galloway (remember him) and even NFL leader in DWIs after five weeks — Braylan Edwards. And the Patriots trio of David Givens, David Patton and Behtel Johnson EACH averaged more yards per catch in 2004 than Moss did in any year with the Pats, including 2007 when had 23 TDs. And if it’s just speed, Bullet Bob Hayes, who averaged 20 per catch in 10 years with the Cowboys, set the world record in the 100-yard dash at 9.1 seconds and won the 100-meter gold medal at the 1964 Olympics.

So I don’t think I can call him the greatest deep threat in the history of the universe under any definition. But where he does stand a chance to be the greatest is as a TD threat. His 153 are better than any of the guys mentioned and only Jerry Rice has more total bombs. And, while Reche Caldwell had more catches and yards in three games to Moss’s four with the Pats, he has 10 in 12 games in the playoffs too.

But then again that speaks to opportunity, doesn’t it? Consider Paul Warfield, who scored a TD every 2.6 catches for Miami in 1973, while even in the 23-TD season for Moss it was 4.3. And over their careers it was 5.0 for Warfield and 6.2 for Randy. Warfield’s problem was the Dolphins had two 1,000-yard rushers and Don Shula thought pounding it with Larry Czonka and Mercury Morris was an even more devastating weapon than throwing to Warfield, who averaged 25 yards a catch that year. One of five times he was over 20 a catch — which Moss has never done.

So after all that, I’m less sure who the greatest deep threat in the history of the universe is, as I think it all depends on your definition. But if forced to make a choice I’ll go with Warfield — who would’ve been something in today’s game.

Dave Long can be reached at dlong@hippopress.com. He hosts Saturday Morning Sports from 11 a.m. to noon Saturdays on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM in Manchester and 900-AM in Nashua.


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A lesson for Leo the Lip and nice guys everywhere

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Saint Theo ascends to new heights in The Nation
Santa sack filled to the brim with sports
Patriots march through injuries toward threepeat
Sports talk should be on the air
Stars shine brightest when winning is in the mix
The Demonization of Johnny Damon
Thirty-seven topics and so little space
Too many holes in Sox for repeat
Trip to the injured list makes it a long weekend for local scribe
Turkeys and giving thanks take center stage this week
Yanked from the edge of your seat