Why Randy Won’t Be Handy

At first glance, Randy Moss going to the Titans seems like a good outcome for the wayward wide receiver. Tennessee is 5-3, a half-game out of both the wildcard and the AFC South, with two games left against the Colts. They have a good coach in Jeff Fisher who makes smart decisions on the field and has the respect of his players (unlike, say, Brad Childress). Best of all, Titans quarterback Vince Young has the highest rating in the NFL (103.1). Sounds great, right? Wrong. Moss will not like being on the Titans.

Let’s take a closer look at Young. Yes, he’s the highest-rated quarterback in the league. But that might be as much because he doesn’t throw as it is because he does. Vince Young ranks 30th in the NFL in passing attempts (122). Even if we give him the 87 passes that Kerry Collins made this season, it still doesn’t put him in the top 20. He also ranks 28th in the NFL in total yards (998), and Collins’ passing still doesn’t put him the top 15. Young doesn’t throw very much, and when he does he’s not even that accurate (59.0 completion percentage, good for 23rd among qualified quarterbacks).

But Young won’t hurt Moss as much Chris Johnson, their running back, will. There are three uber-backs in the NFL: Adrian Peterson of the Vikings, Arian Foster of the Texans, and Johnson. Peterson leads the league in rushing yards with 776, but Johnson sits in third, just 51 yards behind with 721. Johnson also has the most rushing touchdowns with eight. Add to that Johnson’s league-leading 178 rushing attempts, and a prety clear picture emerges: Johnson may or may not be the best running back in the league, but he is definitely the most crucial back in the league. No other team relies so heavily on its running back to execute the team’s overall offensive strategy. And having a running back of Johnson’s caliber benefits the defense as well, because rush-heavy drives take more time than passing drives, keeping the opposing offense off the field.

The Titans look like a team that passes just enough to keep opposing defenses honest. If they passed less, teams would stack against the run and Johnson would get crushed on every attempt. He might even get hurt, which would be devastating for the Titans. But if they passed more, Young’s passing inefficiencies would get exposed. So they pass just enough to sew seeds of doubt in opposing coaches’ minds without actually hurting the team.

But even when they pass, this is not the passing strategy of the 2007 Patriots, who just went deep to Moss all season. The best Tennessee wide receiver, Kenny Britt, is tied for 26th in total receiving yards with 434. But Britt has only 24 receptions this season, tying him for 75th in receptions. The Titans don’t have a passing offense designed to target specific receivers. Their most-targeted receiver, Nate Washington, isn’t even in the top 50 in that category, getting thrown to only 45 times (compare that with #1 Terrell Owens, who’s been targeted 86 times). This team’s passing offense is more reminiscent of the early 2000s Patriots, who won three Super Bowls by hitting whoever was open, winning three rings 8 yards at a time.

Moss is not going to be happy with this passing scheme (which doesn’t necessarily work, considering the Titans rank 24th in the league with 187.6 passing yards per game). History shows that if Moss is not engaged early in the game, he loses interest and mentally checks out in the second half. Moss is not going to be getting a lot of passes, because no one on the Titans gets a lot of passes. The team only passes enough so that it can run the ball effectively. And teams are going to continue double-teaming Moss, because the strategy clearly works. It might open up passing underneath, but it prevents Moss from beating the defense deep, and that’s more important. Moss is not going to get a lot of passes, he’s not going to score much, and it will come back to bite him. Between his trade and then getting waived, most likely a mediocre statistical season, and his age (he’ll be 34 before the 2011 season starts), Moss is unlikely to get a big contract in the off-season.

Now, there is the alternate argument to all this. Perhaps the Titans claimed Moss of waivers because they want to balance the offense and beef up the passing game. Less possessions for Johnson will mean longer productivity for him. If they can save him just three carries a game for the rest of the season, they will have effectively played him one game less (he averages 22.5 carries a game). Having a deep threat like Moss will open up the passing game and make the running-threat even more potent. God knows what kind of play-action schemes they could come up with a running back-wide receiver duo as strong as Johnson and Moss.

However, it seems unlikely that the Titans would change a system that has gotten them the third-best record in the AFC. Additionally, Johnson is very young. He’s played just two full seasons, and he just turned 25. You might try to rest a veteran running back with a lot of miles, but Johnson is still a young stud. He has plenty of life left in those legs and, barring injury, shouldn’t show any real decline for maybe five more years. If overusing him now costs a year at the end of his career but brings home a Lombardi trophy, it’s probably worth it.

So it seems that Moss’ plan backfired in the end. He got out of a terrible situation in Minnesota, but he went to a team that is unlikely to take advantage of his still-formidable talents. The Titans rely primarily on their running game and its superstar Chris Johnson. When they pass, Young just goes to whoever is open, and even then he’s less accurate than either Tom Brady or even Brett Favre. If Moss had hoped to go somewhere where he could play for a new contract, Tennessee isn’t it. He won’t get his receptions, he won’t get his touchdowns, and his press-conference (in which he called out Childress for going for it on fourth down, an action that Bill Belichick has done before and always been unilaterally supported by the team, even when it doesn’t work) and subsequent waiving may raise too many red flags for other teams to take a chance on him.

We’ll never know why Moss chose to hold that bizarre press-conference. He might have wanted to try and preserve his legacy in New England since he knew the media would start bashing him as soon as it became clear that the Patriots didn’t need him (he was right). He might have wanted to get kicked off the Vikings and just go somewhere better. It might be some combination of the two, or maybe he honestly didn’t think he was doing anything wrong. Whatever his reasons, he will finish the season regretting the decision. He may never play in the NFL again- a strange end to a strange career by a strange man.

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