Breaking Down What Randy Moss Brings to the 49ers' Offense
During the regular season, Moss only caught 28 passes for 434 yards and three touchdowns, and he hasn't been a big factor in the team's two playoff games, catching five passes for 71 yards and zero touchdowns.
Don't let the raw numbers fool you, though. Moss has been a key player for the 49ers in 2012, and his presence both on and off the field has given this team a much-needed boost on the offensive side of the ball.
On the Field
Moss still has elite speed on the perimeter, and he is still a threat to go the distance on any given play. As a result, teams often keep a safety over the top on his side of the field, which opens up passing lanes for other players.
Michael Crabtree has been the player most affected by Moss' presence. In the past, Crabtree was the only receiver on the team's roster capable of making big plays on a regular basis, and he was constantly getting doubled.
It's no coincidence that Crabtree had his first-ever 1,000-plus yard season, and the nine touchdown passes he caught represents a career high by three.
We're going to take a look at a play from the 49ers divisional-round matchup between the Green Bay Packers to illustrate just how effective Moss is at drawing defenders away from the middle of the field.
In the second quarter, the Packers were up by a score of 14-7 at this point, and the 49ers had driven down into the red zone.
San Francisco lined up with three wide receivers and two tight ends. Crabtree was the outside receiver on the left side of the field, with A.J. Jenkins and Vernon Davis lined up inside him in the slot. Moss was the slot receiver on the right side, with Delanie Walker on the outside.
Walker ran a hitch route and Moss ran a corner route, pulling three defenders with him to the right corner of the end zone.
Jenkins and Davis ran out routes on the left side of the field, and Crabtree ran a simple slant underneath.
Since Moss had taken three defenders with him, including the safety over the top, there were literally zero defenders in the middle of the field to try and stop Crabtree from scoring.
The threat of Moss torching them in the end zone caused the Packers to overreact.
But it's not an idle threat, as we know.
And Moss isn't just a deep threat, either. He still has the wheels to make plays after the catch, as we saw on Monday Night Football in Week 8 against the Arizona Cardinals.
On this play, Moss lined up as the outside receiver on the right side of the field, and Mario Manningham was the slot receiver on that side. The Cardinals opted to cover Moss one-on-one on the outside, and he made them pay.
After successfully duping his defender on a double move, Moss broke free for Alex Smith's short pass. He then juked a few players out of their shoes, got a block from Davis and turned on the jets.
Forty-seven yards later, Moss was in the end zone.
And that's why teams aren't foolish enough to give Moss single coverage on the outside, ladies and gentlemen.
Off the Field
Moss has been a huge part of the team's success on offense as a coach in the film room and a mentor in the locker room.
Back in early October, when Moss had only caught nine passes for 99 yards and one touchdown through five games, head coach Jim Harbaugh raved about his veteran receiver, per CBSSports.com's Kyle Bonagura:
For a player who developed a reputation for being a me-first guy, there have been no signs of that in San Francisco. It's been quite the opposite. Harbaugh said he often consults with Moss on strategy and looks to the future Hall of Famer for input.
“If not daily, it's weekly,” Harbaugh said. “Most days, Randy's got an enthusiastic suggestion for what we can do or try. The neat thing about it is, it's never a self-centered thing. It's never how to get him more balls. It's how it would help the team or help the group or the unit.”
We already showed how Moss has helped Crabtree on the field, but he's become somewhat of a mentor for the talented receiver in the locker room, too.
Crabtree has fought the "diva" label since coming out of college. Many fans misunderstand him, and the fact that he hadn't really lived up to his draft status with on-field production before 2012 only further fueled the negative view many people had towards him.
According to Cam Inman of MercuryNews.com:
"He makes me feel like I can be myself," Crabtree said of free agent addition Randy Moss. "You can learn from a guy like that. You don't have to change for nobody. All you have to do is be yourself and play your game. Man, I learned so much from him. That's my dude."
It's obvious at this point that Moss has brought an element of confidence that was sorely lacking before this season to Crabtree and the entire 49ers offense.
Because of his positive influence, both on and off the field, it's no surprise that Harbaugh and the 49ers want Moss to return in 2013, per USA Today's Lindsay H. Jones, "For official publication, I, for one, definitely want Randy to come back. Hope he feels the same way."
Moss may not catch the winning touchdown this Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, but there's no doubt he is one of the men responsible for the maturity of the 49ers offense.
Moss' ability to stretch the field, his calm demeanor in the huddle and on the sideline will be a tremendous boost for the 49ers against the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII.
His focus and experience in the film room will certainly have an impact on how this team is mentally prepared to face Baltimore, and it won't shock anyone if he ends up having a big impact in the game.
Will Moss catch a TD in Super Bowl XLVII?
Yes, this is a young man's game, and the 49ers will certainly look to Davis, Crabtree and Gore to carry the bulk of the load on offense. But don't count the old man out of this fight. He's been sparely used for much of the season, and his legs are as fresh as any at this point.
Moss is a vital cog in the 49ers offensive machine, and he'll make his presence known in one form or another this Sunday.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78
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