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Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Pats miss Randy Moss on third down

By Jeremy Lundblad
ESPN Stats & Information

In the 52 games Randy Moss spent in a New England Patriots uniform, the team had only seven games with a third-down conversion rate of less than 30 percent.

In the four games since Moss was traded, the Patriots have had three.

That includes Sunday's blowout at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, during which New England was just 3-for-11 (27.3 percent) on third down.

Overall, the Patriots have a 33.3 percent third-down conversion rate since the Moss trade, which ranks tied for 25th in the NFL. Compare that to the first four games of the season, during which they led the NFL at 55.3 percent.

It's a big reason Zoltan Mesko has twice as many punts (20) in the past four games as he did in the first four (10).

The struggles in the Moss-less passing game (well-chronicled here) are most apparent on obvious passing downs.

That's not to say the loss of Moss is entirely responsible for the drop-off, but the numbers tell a fascinating story.

With Moss in the fold, Tom Brady had a 124.4 passer rating on third down, picking up a first down with 52.9 percent of his passes. In the past four games, his third-down numbers have plummeted across the board. Brady has a 56.5 passer rating and is completing just 40.5 percent of his passes. His first-down percentage has been cut nearly in half to 27.

Brady's completion numbers are even uglier when passes targeted to running backs are taken out. In the season's first four games, Brady was 21-of-29 (72.4 percent) when targeting wide receivers and tight ends on third down. In the four games since, his completion percentage has been cut in half. He is 11-of-31 (35.5 percent) when targeting non-running backs on third down.

Four games is a small sample size, but the question must be asked: Are receivers having a hard time getting open without Moss spreading the field?

Wes Welker hauled in eight of 11 third-down targets in the first four games but just three of seven since. Deion Branch and Brandon Tate have combined for only three catches on their 11 third-down targets since the Moss trade.

Last season, Moss tied for the league lead with six receptions on third-and-short. But that's not where the Patriots have struggled. Nor has there been a significant difference targeting receivers on third-and-long situations, when Moss' downfield presence would have made him a primary target.

Rather, the Patriots' main struggles have come on third downs of between 3 and 7 yards. It's these middle-yardage downs on which Moss seems to be most missed.

In the first four games of the season, Brady was 13-for-17 (76.5 percent) on third down with 3 to 7 yards to go, according to STATS LLC. He got the first down 76.5 percent of the time and had a sparkling 142.2 passer rating on those plays. Since then, he's just 7-for-18 (38.9 percent) with only one-third of the plays moving the chains.

Jeremy Lundblad is a researcher with ESPN Stats & Information. He provides statistical analysis for