Comparing '07 Pats with '98 Vikings

The New England Patriots are just 33 points from breaking the season scoring record of 556 points set by the 1998 Minnesota Vikings, but interestingly enough, these teams don't have similar offenses.

But for all their differences, there is one common thread tying these two amazing offenses together -- Randy Moss.

After all, it was Moss who made Dennis Green change his offense in 1998. (Full disclosure: For those who don't know, Dennis Green is my dad.) Those Vikings moved away from some of the one-RB, two-TE, two-WR sets they used as their base offense. Why? Because during the '98 NFL draft, a young, talented receiver with top-five talent from Marshall named Randy Moss fell down the draft board and landed in the Vikings' lap at No. 21. Minnesota already had Cris Carter, who had gone to five straight Pro Bowls, and Jake Reed, but the Vikings quickly chose value over need. The day after Moss was drafted, they revamped their offense and became a team whose base set would be 1 RB, 1 TE and 3 WRs.

"It was apparent from our first mini-camp practice he was going to be a superstar," Green said about Moss.

With the speedy Moss -- who ran about a 4.2 40 in 1998 at age 21 -- in the mix, it became apparent another change was needed. This one was at quarterback. It was obvious in training camp that Randall Cunningham was going to be a better fit for the offense, even though Brad Johnson was the starter at the time.

"He had that big-time arm that could really stretch the field," Green said of Cunningham. "He had that athleticism to stay alive in the pocket, and his ability to make plays on the move was a perfect fit for what we were trying to do offensively at the time."

What Minnesota wanted to do was stretch the field and force mismatches. Surprisingly, though, it wasn't the Pro Bowler Carter who keyed things and made Moss special.

"No, I would say the opposite," Green said.

It was Moss who opened things up for everyone else. Moss' presence on the outside allowed the Vikings to move Carter inside with their three-receiver package. That meant on early downs against teams that did not go to their sub-packages, Carter would get to work on a LB or safety. On passing downs, he often got to work against a team's No. 3 corner. Back then, Green would simply say, "Pick your poison."

Teams that tried to play the Vikings in man coverage would often see Moss take them deep over the top. Teams that opted to play more Cover 2 got a huge dose of Carter catching balls in the open areas. As Green said, "They were the perfect complement to one another."

So even back in 1998, it was Moss opening up the offense. Does that scenario sound familiar? Jump ahead to 2007 and it is still Moss who is opening up the field for everyone else. Moss frees up Donte' Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney and Moss' new Cris Carter, slot receiver Wes Welker.

Simply put, he's still pretty much the same player he was back then. Asked what differences he saw from the '98 Moss to today's Moss, Green said, "Not much. He is not as fast as he was back then."

Then he kind of chuckled and added, "Instead of being a 4.2 guy, he is now a 4.4 guy. Randy can still get vertical and he can still take it away from a defensive back in the NFL with his ability to go up and get the ball at its highest point. "

So what if he runs a 4.4? He's still one of the faster receivers in the NFL. And he can still make a good offense great.
But while Moss is the common thread between these two offenses, the differences are just as interesting.

When talking about the New England Patriots, you must start with the QB. Green had some great offenses when he was with the Vikings, but there was rarely stability at quarterback. He won games with Johnson, Cunningham, Warren Moon, Daunte Culpepper and even Jeff George at the helm.

"It was the system that made the offense go," Green said.

But it's different for the Patriots. This offense goes through Tom Brady.

"I have never seen a QB play as well as Brady has played this season, and I have been around one of the greatest," said Green, who used to coach Joe Montana in San Francisco.

During that record-setting '98 season, the Vikings began the season with Johnson, but he was injured in Week 1 and in came Cunningham. It became apparent early on that Cunningham was going to be a better fit for what would become a new-look offense for the Vikings that year.

But there were other differences as well.

The Patriots use a lot more empty sets and shotgun in their offense. When I asked him why Minnesota didn't use more empty sets, Green said just two words: "Robert Smith."

Smith was the final cog in that offensive machine. He really made it work.

"Even with as explosive as we were throwing the football, we had a 1,200-yard rusher in Robert Smith," Green said.

That's the major difference between the two offenses. The Patriots rarely established much of a run game this season. Smith, on the other hand, was a major part of the Vikings' success. As Minnesota continued to put up big offensive numbers that season, teams started to play more Cover 2 in an attempt to take away the deep ball to Moss. When the Vikings saw Cover 2, they would often try to chase teams out of it with Smith. When Smith was running well, it would force teams to abandon the Cover 2 and bring a safety down into the box.

And unli
ke what the Patriots are facing, the Vikings never saw the kind of blitz pressure New England has seen in recent weeks.

"Teams were not as quick to blitz us because we had a mobile QB in Cunningham, a back in Robert Smith who could take a draw to the house, had an effective screen game, and blitz pressure often meant Moss would be one on one on the outside," Green said.

Green said both offensive lines excelled. Minnesota had maybe a little bit more of a high-profile line with high picks in Todd Steussie and Korey Stringer, where the Patriots are a little more of a blue-collar group. But "both play excellent together, and that is the most important factor in offensive line play," Green said.

So after comparing both offenses, I had just one more question:
Are the New England Patriots the best team you have ever witnessed?

The 1984 and 1989 San Francisco 49ers were excellent football teams," he said.

"Yes, excellent teams," I told him, "but you did not answer my question.

He paused for one second and said, "Yes, they are the best team I have ever seen."

Jeremy Green, director of pro scouting for Scouts Inc., has been an NFL scout for more than 10 years.