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Updated: October 6th, 2010 10:38pm
Pelissero: There are on-the-field reasons Randy Moss was available, too

Pelissero: There are on-the-field reasons Randy Moss was available, too

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Randy Moss is five years older than he was when the Minnesota Vikings traded him away in 2005. He doesn't have quite the same speed he did when he burst into the NFL in 1998.

He experienced a remarkable resurgence in his early 30s, racking up 47 touchdown catches and 3,626 receiving yards in three full seasons with the New England Patriots before contract demands and conflicts with coaches sent him back to the Vikings in a trade on Wednesday afternoon.

At 33, though, Moss increasingly has enhanced his reputation around the league as a contact-averse, one-trick pony -- albeit a productive one who remains capable of changing a game downfield and commanding coverage adjustments that open things up for teammates.

"When he gets on-tracked early and makes a big play early, confidence brews -- the vertical speed threat's in the passing game," said an AFC scout who has broken down tape of Moss this season.

"But when that guy's disrupted at the line of scrimmage, I think it's harder for Randy ... because he's not a stop-and-start athlete. He's going to be a guy that's going to be vertically building his speed.

"The teams that have the most success against Randy Moss -- it hasn't changed. The book is still there: it's disruption at the line of scrimmage, physical jams and reroutes at the line of scrimmage and don't let him beat you over the top. Give up the small plays underneath, and you can live with that."

The Vikings didn't acquire another Sidney Rice on Wednesday. Moss isn't a fully dimensional receiver or crafted route-runner who threatens short and intermediate as well as down the field.

"With his frame and length, he creates obvious mismatch problems on the perimeter," an NFC scout said. "Now, he's not going to work the middle of the field -- slants or crosses or anything like that."

What Moss does -- create big plays downfield -- he does as well as anyone in the NFL when he's locked in. His combination of size (6-foot-4, 210 pounds) and speed, even diminished somewhat with age, gives Brett Favre the big target he's clearly missed with Rice sidelined by hip surgery.

Perhaps most important, defensive coordinators have to guard against vertical pressure when Moss is on the field, limiting extra-man boxes and help on inside receivers the Vikings began to see too frequently the past month.

"You may see one-on-one content now with (tight end) Visanthe Shiancoe in the middle of the field, where you're going to declare your doubles, where you're going to declare your help," the AFC scout said. "The defensive coordinator still has to protect from Randy Moss in the vertical passing game, because he's still a big-play threat now. How a team declares that and where they deploy their resources, that's up to them, but this should open up and put some players in one-on-one coverage in other places when, prior to that, in the absence of Sidney Rice, teams didn't really have to allocate those double-team resources in that regard."

Shiancoe, who leads the Vikings with 169 receiving yards on 11 catches, acknowledged on Wednesday that "to have that deep-threat presence and to make defenses really, really scout (Moss) out and have an answer for him -- that opens up the whole offense tremendously, man.

"It opens up the middle of the field, with the passing game, definitely opens up the running game because they can't put 20 people in the box to stop Adrian (Peterson). It even helps our line and running backs and everybody pick up blitzes, because (defenses) may not do as much blitzes now. It's just a whole lot of things that domino over from Moss coming."

In other words, even if Moss' production fails to reach the level of recent years -- he had nine catches (out of 21 targets, 42.9%) for 139 yards in four games with New England, putting him on pace for career lows in both categories -- he still may prove to be worth every penny of the $4.894 million the Vikings owe him for the next 13 weeks.

By not extending Moss' contract immediately, there also is some feeling with the organization the Vikings are getting an even more dangerous weapon: Randy Moss With Something To Prove.

"I think there's always that," coach Brad Childress said. "The great thing about this business you've got to do it every week. So, for anybody that's saying anything bad about Randy Moss -- he gets a chance to show them wrong. That's never bad."

A seven-time Pro Bowl receiver couldn't be had for a third-round draft pick for no reason, of course. Moss wore out his welcome in New England -- just as he had in Minnesota and Oakland before -- he drops a lot of balls and his legs aren't getting any fresher after 12-plus NFL seasons.

"It's all about the shelf life -- has this guy got one year left in the tank or two years left in the tank?" the AFC scout said. "Traditionally, the Patriots will try to trade away guys a year or two early rather than a year or two late."

For the Vikings, this was a move for now. Rice remains on crutches, Percy Harvin isn't a detailed route-runner, Bernard Berrian looks old, Greg Camarillo belongs in the slot and Hank Baskett is just a guy.

Favre finally got his wish. He'll look right or left and see Moss on the first snap Monday night across him All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis and the New York Jets, against whom Moss had a 34-yard touchdown on Sept. 19 but caught only two of 10 passes thrown his way.

The Vikings are optimistic Moss can get up to speed rapidly on the West Coast offense he hasn't played since the early days of his career. And with a 1-2 record exiting the bye and entering their toughest four-game stretch of the season, it's vital the Vikings' offense gets off to a fast start.

One which the Jets and just about everyone else will try to prevent by pressing and frustrating Moss at the line from the opening snap.

"That's the only way," the NFC scout said. "You hope to take him out early and don't let him get on a roll. In terms of size and speed, he's rare. That's really the only way I know (to stop Moss) -- you roll the coverage to him and you don't let him off the line.

"You get to him early, who knows?"

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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