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Inside the NFL | Xs and O's

Moss Can't Navigate Viking Offense Either

September 28, 2002|LONNIE WHITE

After spending a night in jail this week because of an incident involving a Minneapolis traffic officer, Randy Moss solidified his status as the NFL's public enemy No. 1 but promised to take out his frustrations on the football field.

That would be good for the Vikings, who are 0-3 heading into Sunday night's game at Seattle and desperately need Moss to play to the level of his ego.

With 21 catches for 185 yards and two touchdowns, Moss' numbers are not bad, but they fall a first down short of everyone's expectations for a player who received an $18-million signing bonus.

It's wrong, however, to blame Moss for all of the winless Vikings' problems.

Minnesota's offensive woes start with coordinator Scott Linehan and Coach Mike Tice. They have built a clueless attack around Moss that is as predictable as the weather in the Vikings' Metrodome.

Thanks to Tice's "Randy ratio," which calls for Moss to touch the ball on 40% of the Vikings' plays, defenses are having an easy time frustrating him.

Moss is being double-teamed on nearly every play as he confronts defenses geared to shut him down. Most opponents sit back in a deep-cover-two defense, which features two safeties playing on the hash marks 20 yards off the ball before the snap.

This hampers a speedy and athletic player like Moss, who has terrorized secondaries since joining the NFL in 1998. In averaging 17 yards a catch over his first four seasons in the league, Moss was the league's top long-ball threat. But this season, teams have limited him to 8.8 yards a reception.

The Vikings have tried to counter cover-two defenses by using Moss more as a slot receiver but that hasn't been effective.

In previous seasons, Cris Carter excelled in this role for the Vikings, but now he's a commentator on HBO's "Inside the NFL." Moss has struggled in the slot because of his body type and his inability to avoid big hits in the middle of the field.

Whereas Carter had the perfect compact build to go in motion and run choice routes, which are short timing patterns based on open areas in defenses, Moss is lanky with average skills when running short routes. A confused quarterback Daunte Culpepper has often guessed wrong when trying to anticipate Moss' moves. And in spending so much time trying to figure out Moss' patterns, Culpepper has missed seeing other receivers.

"We watch films on teams and prepare for them, but then when we play them, they play us totally different than any other team," Culpepper said this week in a conference call. "It's because of Randy and how teams are always trying to stop what he can do."

Moss is learning that success in the NFL is often short-lived because hitting back is the way of the game. Intimidation rules and Moss is just getting some payback.

Because teams are getting more open hits on Moss, he has developed the bad habit of giving up on balls when he thinks there's about to be a big collision. That happened Sunday in the Vikings' loss to the Carolina Panthers. On a deep pass down the left sideline, Moss quit on the ball when he saw Mike Minter waiting to hit him, and Minter intercepted.

For Moss to be effective in this offense, he has to be able to catch throws within the defensive seams. But because opposing teams are content to keep a safety deep, often with a man underneath, this has been a difficult pass to complete.

That was also the case with another interception when Culpepper tried to force a pass to Moss down the left hash marks.

Culpepper thought Moss was going to run a streak route and try to beat the safety to the ball. Moss, however, thought it would be better for him to bend his route in front of the safety and the result was another turnover.

Also hurting Moss' production has been the Vikings' running game. Minnesota actually has the third-best rushing attack in the NFC, but the Vikings can't get the ground yardage when they need it most.

That's why the Vikings' running back tandem of Michael Bennett and Moe Williams gets so little respect. The Vikings seldom face eight-men stacked defenses, which focus on stopping the run, and their play-action pass plays are usually ineffective against nickel coverage--five defensive backs.

But don't count Moss and the Vikings out yet, fantasy league players. The Seahawks may be just what the Vikings need to turn things around.

Moss has always played well on national television, and Sunday's game will be shown on ESPN. With Seattle cornerback Shawn Springs hobbled by a foot injury, Moss will again face zone defenses geared to stop him.

That should give Culpepper plenty of easy pre-snap reads to help him decide where to throw. With tight end Byron Chamberlain back in the lineup after missing the last two games because of injury and Seattle's weak run defense, Culpepper should not be so pressed to get the ball to Moss.

Once Minnesota is able to open things up with some other weapons, that should free up Moss for some one-on-one coverages. Advantage Vikings.

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