Hoge coming to Moss’s defense

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OK, so got in touch with ESPN analyst Merril Hoge a few minutes ago. He’d seen what I wrote a few days ago, and wanted to talk about Randy Moss’s performance.

First, some background. Hoge told me that about a decade ago, he and some other analysts at ESPN did a year-and-a-half study to prove that Moss was loafing. It took that long because those guys felt like they needed to be fair — based on the fact that it was a pretty strong criticism — and wanted a large body of work. And so they went with it, with video of Moss standing around at the snap of some plays and jogging through routes as evidence.

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After studying Moss’s effort Sunday against the Panthers, this former Steeler says he saw something completely different.

“I’ll say this: he didn’t take a play off, not one play did he take off,” Hoge said, emphatically. “Just to add to that, I’d say 60 percent of the time, Tom Brady didn’t look to his side, based on the coverage. He knew he was being taken out of the game.”

Hoge said the Panthers played Moss the way the Bears used to — pressing with a corner and keeping a safety 20-25 yards deep over the top. It obviously worked.

And Hoge allowed that Carolina changed their coverage as the game went on, which is what the Panthers defensive backs told me on Sunday. But he added that his effort didn’t waver, at least not on tape.

“I’ve watched every game from him — except for a couple he had with the Raiders — and I’ve never seen him do (what he did in those early days with the Vikings) again,” Hoge said. “Last week was one of the best efforts I’ve seen from him, as far as not having the ball in his hands. He made 8-10 important blocks in the running game.”

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As for the interception …

“That route wasn’t the best route, he could’ve come out of his break better,” Hoge said, before adding that Moss’ effort was the third factor on the pick. The first was Chris Gamble playing outside technique, which meant that it was a risky decision to throw it there in the first place. “But it’s Tom Brady and Randy Moss, so you take that chance,” Hoge said.

The second factor was the throw, which was altered by Julius Peppers getting inside pressure, keeping Brady from properly stepping into it. And the third was the route.

“I understand where (the Panthers DBs) are coming from,” Hoge said. “But to be fair, Moss has never been a great route-runner. It’s not his forte. It’s not his position to do that. He’s never been a sharp, crisp route-runner, and that’s not what anyone fears in him.”

Hoge added that the Patriots used Moss to free up others, by motioning and running stack-release sets that allowed Wes Welker and Co. to get off the line cleanly.

If it seems we’re hearing different things here, then maybe we are. But Hoge was adamant about his point, which he’ll make again on the 2 p.m. Sportscenter and 4 p.m. NFL Live.

“If I thought he quit, I’d be the first to say it,” Hoge said. “This was one of his better games, away from the ball.”