Moss shocker & CHFF shiny hood ornament theory
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Oct 31, 2010
(Ed note: this story was published Monday morning, before the Vikings waived Randy Moss in the wake of their 28-18 loss at New England Sunday. Clearly, Minnesota management is among those who grasp the brilliance of the CHFF shiny hood ornament theory. Too bad they had to blow a third-round pick in 2011 to learn the lesson. Now, if the Vikings could only come to terms with their faulty "put your hopes in the battered old mistake-prone QB" theory, they might actually be on to a brighter future.)
By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts pit crew captain of pigskin
It's one thing to be right all the time. It's another thing to be right all the time while brazenly spitting into the pock-marked face of 90 years' worth of conventional football wisdom.
But the mighty, mighty Cold, Hard Football Facts have made a habit of flicking aside the full weight of the sport's long-held beliefs, maxims and theories as if they were little more than an insect hovering around our shoo-fly pie of pigskin.
We witnessed example No. 1,532 in the long history of CHFF's dominance over conventional wisdom and the pigskin "pundits" Sunday afternoon, as the Randy Moss-less Patriots outclassed Randy Moss's Vikings, 28-18.
It was more than just a victory for the Patriots. It was a resounding victory for the gridiron truism perpetuated by the Cold, Hard Football Facts: the shiny hood ornament theory.
You know the theory: wide receivers, for all their eye-catching flash and dash, are little more than shiny ornaments on the hood of an NFL offense. Oh, sure, they're nice to have. But they don't necessarily make your offense any better – and they rarely if ever make your team any better.
The foundation of the shiny hood ornament theory is that you add a flashy wide receiver only when all the other pieces of a great team are in place: a great driver (the quarterback), some sporty tires that provide plenty of traction (the offensive line and ground game), a powerful motor (the defense) and a great transmission (special teams) that allows you to change gears quickly and effectively.
Then, only then, when all those pieces are in place, do you put a shiny hood ornament on the vehicle.
The Vikings and Patriots have provided yet another case study, here in 2010 and in Week 8 itself.
You know the background: It suddenly dawned on New England management this year, the fourth in the Moss Era, that maybe they could win without the shiny hood ornament, much like they won Super Bowls without one early last decade.
Those teams didn't flash past opponents. They plodded along a slow yet inevitable march toward victory, like the Fourth Armored Division on its inevitable march across France.
So the Gen. Patton of Pigskin, Bill Belichick, shipped the spectacular wide receiver off to Minnesota. The Vikings, poorly coached and managed as they are, have mistakenly believed for two years now that an INT-prone 40-year-old quarterback was the key to their Super Bowl dreams.
Naturally, if the Vikings were suckered in by BrettFavre, they'd be suckered in by the flash and dash of a shiny hood ornament, too. And suckered in they were: they stuck that nice shiny hood ornament on a team that's been sputtering along in the breakdown lane of the 2010 season.
When the radiator is overheating, the spark plugs are misfiring and the dark smoke of burning oil is pouring from the tailpipe, you don't have to be a mechanic to realize that the hood ornament is not going to help improve the vehicle's performance.
So what's changed for these two teams since the trade? Nothing, really.
The Patriots were a good, solid machine with Moss: they went 3-1, losing only at the tough division rival Jets.
They're a good, solid machine without Moss: 3-0 including wins over likely AFC playoff teams at San Diego and at home vs. Baltimore. If anything, they're better.
The Vikings were a sputtering team without Moss: they were 1-2 with the only win at home against the lowly Lions.
The Vikings are a sputtering team with Moss: 1-3 with the only victory a gift at home against the disastrous Cowboys. If anything, they're worse.
Now, keep in mind that we are not bashing Moss. He is, without a doubt, one of the all-time great wide receivers and, as far as we're concerned, a first ballot-lock for the Hall of Fame. He's a brilliant peformer, but a brilliant performer at a position that has only a negilible impact on the performance of any team.
Being a brilliant performer, it is true that Moss has had an unusually large impact by the standards of the position. It's no coincidence that he's the one constant between the two highest-scoring offenses in NFL history: the 1998 Vikings (556 points) and the 2007 Patriots (589 points).
He's even had an impact on the offense of both the Patriots and Vikings here in 2010:
The Vikings averaged 14.3 PPG in three games without Moss; they've averaged 21.5 PPG in four games with Moss.
The Patriots averaged 32.8 PPG in four games with Moss; they've averaged 24.7 PPG game in three games without Moss.
The Minnesota offense averaged 5.21 yards per play without Moss; it's averaged 5.45 yards per play with Moss.
The New England offense averaged 5.74 yards per play with Moss; it's averaged 5.05 yards per play without Moss.
Despite some quantifiable statistical changes in performance, the teams are largely the same at the end of the day. We and you knew ahead of time that the shiny hood ornament, even the shiniest among them like Moss, was merely a role player.
The Vikings should be painfully aware now: paired with a struggling quarterback in BrettFavre, who was mercifully knocked out of the game in the fourth quarter, Moss caught just 1 pass for 8 yards. He was a non factor. The Vikings are fools if they thought this would all go down otherwise.
It was less than a year ago at we told that the key to success in New England – or, more specifically, the key to a return to success in New England – was to dump Randy Moss and return to the old-school style of football that had carried the organization to three Super Bowl victories in four years.
The pigskin "pundits" were apoplectic. "How do you get better by getting rid of a great wide receiver?" is what they wanted to know. Our pal Gerry Callahan on sports radio WEEI in Boston asked this very question a number of times during our appearances on his show.
Counterintuitive though it may be, the shiny hood ornament theory stands today indisputable. The Patriots suddenly appear tougher, nastier and better equipped to play various styles of football than they appeared just one month ago. Their defense is playing better, surrendering fewer points and roughing up opposing teams like it once did in during its Super Bowl glory days earlier in the decade.
The Patriots, in the wake of the Moss trade, have all the appearances of a tougher team. They look like the Old School Patriots, as we noted a couple weeks ago.
Two plays have summed up that new-old grittier style of New England football perfectly: the first was when safety Brandon Meriweather roughed up Baltimore tight end Todd Heap with an illegal hit in New England's 23-20 victory three weeks ago, the first game of the post-Moss Era. Yes, it was an illegal hit that spawned a wave of controversy from folks other than the Cold, Hard Football Facts. But in the NFL, in a realm where the Law of the Jungle still rules, the hit changed the course of the game.
And then against Minnesota on Sunday, one play summed up the new Old School Patriots: the Vikings faced 4th and goal at the New England 1 in the final seconds of the first half. The game was tied 7-7.
Minnesota decided to pound it into the end zone with the great Adrian Peterson. But in a statement moment, the suddenly tougher New England defense rose up and stuffed Peterson for a 2-yard loss. The stop preserved the tie, preserved momentum and, in the end, might have preserved the victory.
Shiny hood ornaments had little to do with the signature moment of the game. They rarely if ever do.
Minnesota, for its part, appears no stronger over the last month with Moss than they did in the previous month without Moss.
The Vikings have the glossy hood ornament. But the Patriots are the team speeding around the oval of the 2010 season ahead of the pack, the only team with six victories and just a single loss on the ledger as we head into the second half of the race.
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