Can one play define a player’s career? That is the dilemma we face with our latest Secret Superstar, Rahim Moore. The Denver Broncos’ second-year safety proved himself to be one of the best at his position in 2012. He attacked his biggest weakness from a rough rookie season and turned it into a strength. In doing so, he earned positive grades in all aspects of his game.
Yet to most fans, Moore’s name is synonymous with one of the most embarrassing plays in NFL postseason history. As good as he was, not many outside Denver knew the young safety until they saw him tumbling to the ground, helpless to stop Jacoby Jones from catching a game-tying touchdown. When the Baltimore Ravens eventually eliminated the Broncos in overtime of their Divisional Playoff Game, Moore became the face of a season-ending loss.
We at PFF judge players by looking at every play in every game (it is our mantra, after all). It was this process that unearthed a hidden play that shed some more light on Moore’s mistake, and the challenge facing the young safety ahead.
From Starter To Inactive
Coming out of UCLA, Moore was a ballhawk who impressed scouts with his range and play-making ability. The Broncos made him the first safety off the board with the 45th pick of the 2011 Draft, and immediately named him a starter. But his time atop the depth chart would be short-lived. Moore’s rookie season got off to a rough start when Marcel Reece, the Oakland Raiders’ versatile fullback, beat him for an easy touchdown in the second quarter of the Broncos’ home opener. Then with 13 minutes left in the game, Moore’s poor angle on a tackle attempt sprung Darren McFadden for a run that set up Oakland’s game-winning score.
While Moore improved his coverage after his first game (he did not allow another touchdown all season), the same could not be said of his tackling. After he missed a whopping four tackles against the San Diego Chargers in Week 5, he lost his starting job to fellow rookie Quinton Carter. Moore’s next few weeks were spent rotating between backup duty, special teams snaps, and even the inactive list.
An injury to Brian Dawkins thrust Moore back into a feature role in Week 14 versus the Chicago Bears, but the rookie’s problems persisted. With the game scoreless in the third quarter, he had Marion Barber dead to rights for a run stop in the backfield. But the running back slipped through Moore’s arms and high-stepped into the end zone. It was another of the 10 missed tackles the rookie would be guilty of that season. His 3.9 Tackling Efficiency was the second-worst mark by any safety with more than 200 snaps.
While Moore was handed a starting job in his first training camp, he had to fight for one in his second. Though Dawkins had retired, the Broncos had Moore, Carter, and newly-signed veteran Mike Adams competing for two spots. After slipping off so many ballcarriers in his rookie season, Moore had spent the offseason attacking his weakness head-on. He’d practiced mixed martial arts to better his tackling, and had focused on his assignments to become more comfortable with them. His improvement showed, and the sophomore safety won back his starting job in August. This time, he wouldn’t let it go.
A year after spending some Sundays as a healthy scratch, Moore played more snaps in 2012 than any other Broncos defender. Often lining up deep as Denver’s last line of defense, Moore allowed just 0.46 Yards Per Coverage Snap and surrendered a first down or touchdown on only 1.64% of his snaps. At the same time, he frequently showed the speed and instincts to provide support against backfield screens. And when he got to the point of attack, he sealed the deal.
After amassing 11 missed tackles in 43 attempts in 2011 (including the playoffs), Moore had just eight in 96 attempts in 2012. Amazingly, he’d transformed himself from one of the worst-tackling safeties in the league into one of the best. And with a +9.0 grade in the regular season that tied for the 10th-highest of any safety, he was one of the more promising young defenders in the league. This would have been the lasting image of Moore heading into the upcoming season, except for the outcome of one play.
It was late in the fourth quarter, and the Broncos were on the verge of victory. Moore backed up in the secondary; his mission was to let no receiver get behind him. The quarterback took the snap and immediately felt pressure, stepping up into the pocket to escape it. He heaved the ball high into the air, deep down the right sideline. Moore was in clear range of the intended receiver, but instead stepped a few yards in front of him. He was playing the ball, not the man. However, Moore had misjudged the pass; it was going to carry behind him. At the last second, he leapt into the air and… tipped it barely enough to to deflect the potential touchdown to Vincent Jackson. “This is risky business here,” said Fox commentator John Lynch as he watched the replay of the safety’s unorthodox approach. Moore seemed to breathe a sigh of relief as he walked back to the line of scrimmage. He’d dodged a bullet.
As you can tell, that was not the play that most fans now associate with Moore. The play we just described occurred when the Broncos hosted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back in Week 13. With 3:42 left in the game and an 18-point lead, Moore’s pass defensed virtually sealed the victory for Denver. But it wasn’t a smart play. In his haste to make a game-ending interception, Moore nearly gave up a touchdown that would have brought new life to a desperate opponent. Six weeks later, against the Ravens, he found himself in the same position. He unwisely took the same approach, and this time faced disastrous results. Sometimes, an innocuous incompletion in November can foretell a history-altering touchdown in January. What do they say about those who don’t learn from history?
We don’t bring this play up to suggest that Moore has a critical flaw when it comes to defending deep passes in the final minutes of a game. He’s said that he’s learned from this costly lesson, and he likely has. The next time he sees a Hail Mary, he’ll probably make a bee-line behind the deepest receiver.
However, we don’t want to underestimate the enormity of the challenge facing Moore. He has the talent and drive to be one of the best safeties in the league. A season’s worth of tape backs it up. He identified his biggest weakness from his rookie season, and made it a strength. But his 2013 will be defined by how he bounces back from a mistake that he made not once, but twice. Sports history is littered with men who could not recover from one bad error. Here’s hoping that this Secret Superstar does.
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