Love him or hate him for his outspoken nature and overuse of the term "factor back," Merrill Hoge of ESPN's NFL Matchup show probably watches more film now than he did when he was a running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers. And Greg Cosell, executive producer of the show, probably watches more film than anyone not currently involved with an NFL team.
These guys break down coaches tape for a living, and they have no personal or professional attachments coloring their analysis. I've interviewed Cosell on several different occasions for articles when I wanted that extra added value brought by a guy who sees what's going on in the games at a pro level, and will give the unvarnished truth about what happens on the field. I haven't talked to Hoge, but he's generally had the preferences common to most running backs -- he wants to talk about tough guys, and there's not a lot of respect for diva receivers.
So when Cosell and Hoge spoke out this week about the most recent Randy Moss controversy -- did he "shut it down" against the Carolina Panthers? -- I thought it was an instructive example of bias-free analysis. They could have added to the bonfire with quick-hit pseudo-analysis, but they took a hard look at Moss' performance in last Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers and concluded that Moss was no different in this game than in any other.
Hoge believed that Moss "did not take one play off in that game":
When I first put in the tape, the first thing that struck me was that the Carolina Panthers were playing him similar to how the Chicago Bears did when he was in Minnesota. They would ride up a corner and press him at the line of scrimmage and then play a safety to that side anywhere from 20 to 25 yards over the top, which is a presnap indicator that you can forget the long ball, don't even think about it."
On the interception where Moss was targeted, Hoge added that the route could have been run more cleanly, but coverage and pressure were additional (possibly dominant) factors.
Cosell got specific about Moss' catch-and-fumble.
"Normally when Moss catches a ball in the middle of the field facing the quarterback, he goes down. This one, he actually puts his shoulder into (the defender). That's what caused the fumble. You could argue he's giving more effort, as opposed to less effort."
Looking at it from the eye in the sky as Hoge and Cosell did, it appears that those who jumped to quick conclusions (such as, ahem, yours truly) should have hit the replay button before making pronouncements. That's why the kind of film-based analysis Hoge and Cosell do is so important to the further understanding and enjoyment of the game.