Matt Waldman’s RSP NFL Lens WR Randy Moss: Preying on Expectations

Matt Waldman’s RSP NFL Lens examines a masterful route from Randy Moss and the advanced strategic thinking that applies to great route running.

I love suspense. Alfred Hitchcock is the master and it’s not surprising that even away from the movie set, he loved to create suspense. Here’s Peter Bogdanovich sharing Hitchcock’s cruel and hilarious “Elevator Story.”

When you think about it, the story arc of a route and a suspenseful tale are essentially the same: You’re creating an audience expectation and then savagely preying on it. The crime drama Se7en does this as well as any movie in the history of film (the clip below has spoilers and is NSFW).

I actually laughed out loud in the movie theater when the officer, played by Brad Pitt, reacted as he did. As a member of the audience invested in the characters, I wasn’t happy about the events that transpired. However, as an aspiring storyteller, the ending left me unabashed about my perverse glee. I loved the savagery that the writer, director, and actors committed upon our expectations as an audience.

Randy Moss is the Hitchcock and Se7en of wide receivers. This route is a tremendous example of a strategic mastery that goes well beyond the technical and athletic.

Watch this route as a fan, and you see Moss fake out the corner twice, get wide open, and catch the ball at the boundary. You don’t need to be an expert at any facet of the game to appreciate how easy Moss’ dispatching of the cornerback appears.

As an aspiring student of the game, you’ll likely note:

  1. The even pace and strides of Moss’ approach to the defender.
  2. The hard jab-step close to the inside foot of defender, breaking the opponent’s bubble of space to set up the move in the opposite direction.
  3. Moss slightly moving his head to the right before he makes that hard jab-step.
  4. The arm-over move with Moss’ left arm as he works outside the defender.
  5. The lean of Moss’ pads to the outside as if he’s driving to the outside.
  6. The same even pace sustained throughout the route.
  7. Driving off the inside foot to snap his turn back to the left so his break is flat and doesn’t drift.
  8. Snapping his head around at the break-point to locate the quarterback and ball.
  9. Altering his stride length and pace closer to the sideline so he can catch the target with arms extended and back still to the trailing defender and well inside the boundary.

These are all points worth learning and appreciating. However, let’s go a level or two deeper. Moss terrified cornerbacks with his ability and once he established that reputation, he knew how to play it up. The thing cornerbacks feared the most about Moss was his speed and quickness.

Don’t let him get by you. 

Even in a compressed area like the red zone, Moss’ game generated this palpable fear. In the route above, it’s clear that Moss plays to expectation by using fast pacing from beginning to end of the route. When opponents were afraid of his speed and quickness, he gave them speed and quickness to confirm their expectation that he was trying to put an end to their gameplan early and badly.

This is why Moss is such a good match for a double move in the end zone. He can and should perform it with a fast pace to create the expectation that he’s running a quick, one-cut break and the ball will be out immediately.

Adding the layer of the slight head turn to the right before he executes the jab is a complete head game on the defender. The opponent won’t think that Moss could possibly tip off a break to the right side, but he’ll remember and react to it hard when Moss indeed breaks to the right. As that defender chases Moss after the first break, the thought that he missed a tell flashes through his mind and only adds to the urgency of the situation.

Moss further sells the first break with a masterful use of the arm-over. There’s no real obstacle for Moss to even use the technique, but it sells the idea that he’s breaking outside and walling off the defender. This and the subtle head turn to the right before the break gives the defender a false clue before that he’s thinking about after the fact. Even if it’s for a split-second, it creates the emotional need to believe an expectation that Moss preys on.

This route is indicative of a receiver who knows who he is, the reputation he has with his opponents, and how to use that reputation against them. The best receivers understand how to play with audience expectations and Moss’ work would make Hitchcock proud.

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