Commentary

Randy Moss poses challenge for Pats

Young New England cornerbacks face tough task against former teammate Sunday

Updated: October 28, 2010, 4:31 PM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick has said it more than once: Randy Moss is the smartest receiver he's ever been around, which naturally puts him in an elite class.

"That's what makes Tom Brady, Tom Brady. It makes Randy Moss, Randy Moss and it made Lawrence Taylor, Lawrence Taylor," Belichick said on Nov. 6, 2009. "Those guys just have that sixth, seventh sense."

Belichick's respect for Moss' football intelligence is topical to revisit this week as the Patriots prepare to host the receiver and the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. How much will Moss' knowledge of the Patriots affect the way Belichick sets the defensive game plan? And how much will Moss' knowledge of the Patriots' personnel help the Vikings with their own plans?

Moss spent part of his day off Tuesday huddling with Vikings offensive and defensive coaches, passing along intel of what he picked up in his three-plus seasons with the Patriots. Vikings coach Brad Childress came away impressed.

"He's very articulate," Childress told reporters in Minnesota. "You never know what you're going to get and how they have to play him, [but] he at least had some insightfulness on both sides."

Much like they did against the Denver Broncos last season when they were facing their former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, the Patriots are changing some of their on-field verbiage and signals this week, according to Brady. That's standard operating procedure in situations like these.

Yet while there may be an edge to be gained in that area, it figures to come down more to execution when Moss -- most often playing the "X" receiver spot opposite the tight-end side -- is lined up across from either cornerback Devin McCourty or Kyle Arrington.

McCourty, the Patriots' impressive first-round draft choice, will be making his seventh career NFL start and Belichick praised his consistency this week. Arrington, a former practice-squad player who has had a surprise emergence, is expected to be making just his fifth career NFL start.

Needless to say, this is the biggest challenge of their young NFL lives.

"I'm going to give it my all each play and whatever the call is, we just do our job," Arrington said on Wednesday. "That's kind of our motto around here -- we just do our job. We don't try to do the other person's job, or do too much. That's how you get yourself in trouble and how you get the team in trouble."

The Patriots aren't likely to leave McCourty or Arrington alone on Moss often. There should be plenty of safety help over the top to limit Moss as a deep threat, which is what Vikings coach Brad Childress said the past three opponents have done, contributing to Moss totaling just 12 receptions for 166 yards and two touchdowns since the trade.

[+] EnlargeKyle Arrington
Marvin Gentry/US PresswireKyle Arrington (left) will be making just his fifth NFL start when he goes up against former teammate Randy Moss on Sunday.

One benefit for McCourty and Arrington is that they've practiced against Moss, so they've experienced how he can quickly shift into gear. The suddenness of Moss' explosive burst has left plenty of young defensive backs in his wake, not to mention his knack for tracking the ball unassumingly before thrusting his hands out at the last possible moment and having the football stick like Velcro.

Patriots fans have seen plenty of those jaw-dropping catches, some of the one-handed variety, such as this year's highlight-reel dandy against the New York Jets and cornerback Darrelle Revis. Patriots defensive backs have seen even more because they happened regularly in practice.

"It's a big benefit to cover a guy like Moss; it really prepares you," said Arrington, adding that he'd include Wes Welker in that category, as well. "Randy is a heck of a deep threat, one of the best in the game to ever do it. We're aware of that."

On the flip side, Moss is more aware of some of the weaknesses of McCourty and Arrington from his time going against them in practice. If there is an advantage to be gained from any familiarity, Belichick said he believes it probably tilts in Moss' favor.

"We've worked against him and obviously have a good knowledge of him, but he knows a lot more. … We know one guy. He knows all of us," Belichick said. "Practicing against somebody -- I don't think there's any better preparation than that, than actually going up against them." Arrington believes Moss completes the Vikings' offense, giving them a lethal vertical threat to go along with running back Adrian Peterson, tight end Visanthe Shiancoe and receiver Percy Harvin. Combining that with Moss' knowledge of the Patriots presents the possibility that Gillette Stadium could turn into a haunted house on Sunday.

One of Arrington's main goals is to ensure that doesn't happen.

"We know him well, he knows us well. There are a few techniques that we're going to use in trying to stop him that he knows, and I'm sure he's going to tell his guys the same thing about us and try to use it against us," Arrington said. "It should be an interesting matchup."

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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