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Xs and O's / LONNIE WHITE

Receivers Have an Inside Track to Success

November 02, 2003|LONNIE WHITE

It should not be shocking to realize that the NFL's top three wide receivers -- Torry Holt of St. Louis, Randy Moss of Minnesota and Marvin Harrison of Indianapolis -- play their home games indoors on artificial turf.

Although fake fields are tough on the bodies of NFL players, they are the perfect environment for skillful receivers.

Holt, Moss and Harrison don't have to worry about field conditions when they play at home. They can make whatever cuts are needed to get open and then not be concerned about a stiff wind blowing the ball away.

Just look at the numbers. Two months into the season, Holt already has 52 receptions for 778 yards and eight touchdowns. Moss has 46 catches for a league-high 791 yards and eight scores, and Harrison has 49 for 687 and six touchdowns.

Defenses have been trying to slow these guys all season, with no luck. Holt, Moss and Harrison know how to set up cornerbacks and work around secondaries concentrating on stopping them. They use the sidelines, run underneath patterns and are not reluctant to go over the middle

What separates these receivers from the rest in the NFL is their combination of speed and big-play ability. There are plenty of super-fast receivers who can outrun defenders seven days a week. There are also lots of players who can make spectacular catches.

But Holt, Moss and Harrison, besides having blazing speed, are more than willing to go get the ball when it is in the air. They play like good running backs. The more they get the ball, the better they get.

Holt opened the season with a seven-catch, 119-yard effort against the New York Giants. In Week 4, he caught 12 passes for 133 yards against Arizona. Two weeks later, Holt was at it again with 11 catches for 161 yards and two touchdowns against Atlanta. Last week, he had seven receptions for 174 yards against Pittsburgh.

In his fifth NFL season, the North Carolina State product has benefited from having Marc Bulger at quarterback. Bulger's ability to spread the ball around but also lock in on Holt has opened up St. Louis' offense.

With Isaac Bruce on the other side, Holt is difficult to double-team because he apparently can't be slowed at the line of scrimmage. Many teams have tried, but Holt is just too quick, especially playing in the Edward Jones Dome at home.

Moss' story is a little different. At 6 feet 4, he is taller than Holt and Harrison by at least three inches. And complementing his height advantage is his remarkable leaping ability.

It really doesn't matter who plays quarterback for Moss because he's the best at making the up-for-grabs catch, especially at home. He has an uncanny knack of timing his leap against the jump of a defender. It's not uncommon for Moss to give a slight nudge to a defensive back moments before the ball arrives.

Sometimes Moss jumps early. Sometimes he jumps late. But the results are usually the same: First down or touchdown for the Vikings.

Moss has caught touchdown passes in four of seven games and had three against San Francisco on Sept. 28. He is the big-play master. He leads the NFL in catches for more than 20 yards, with 15, and in yards receiving per game, 113.

Harrison's strength is all-around ability, although the Colts always line him up on the right side of the ball. He is arguably football's most complete receiver, and has caught 518 passes in 71 games over the last five seasons. That's nearly 7.3 catches a game.

Harrison's yardage per catch may not be as great as Moss' or Holt's, but that's not because he lacks big-play ability.

Harrison established a personal best with a 79-yard touchdown play against New Orleans, the longest of his eight-year NFL career. He also had a 53-yard catch-run for a touchdown against Tampa Bay.

Defending Harrison has become a nightmare for defensive backs because he runs such precise routes. Of course, it doesn't help cornerbacks that Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning and Harrison have played together for so long, and are so familiar with each other's moves.

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