On 2-9 Cards, Moore, Sanders catch praise Arizona tandem ranks second in NFL with combined 123 receptions

November 21, 1997|By Shawn Cox | Shawn Cox,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

PHOENIX -- Rob Moore is the grizzled wide receiver of the Arizona Cardinals, a seasoned Pro Bowl talent who answers questions methodically, in measured, even tones.

The eight-year veteran out of Syracuse -- with a master's degree in education -- talks like he has seen just about everything.

Frank Sanders, five years younger, talks like he wants everything.

The former Auburn receiver speaks with boundless zeal about learning from Moore, often smiling as he talks, the words flowing non-stop.

The Cardinals may be wallowing in the NFC East cellar at 2-9, but Moore and Sanders have been a quiet constant, enjoying seasons that have placed them among the league's best receivers.

With dazzling performances last Sunday against the New York Giants -- a career-high 188 yards on nine catches for Sanders, 139 on eight for Moore -- the twosome became the NFL's No. 2 pair of receivers.

Even though Moore (65) and Sanders (58) trail only Detroit's Herman Moore and Johnnie Morton in receptions, the buzz has been about the same.

They remain two of the most unheralded big-play receivers in the league -- and that suits them just fine.

"When you think about the Arizona Cardinals, we don't pop in your mind -- or when you think about the NFC or the NFL," said Sanders, the 1995 NFC offensive rookie of the year. "You're just going to say, 'the Arizona Cardinals.' But that's not going to stop us. We're still going to put up numbers regardless."

Through 11 games, Moore is atop the NFL with a career-high 1,048 receiving yards, 38 more than his last season with the New York Jets three years ago, when he went to the Pro Bowl.

Sanders leads the league this year in third-down receptions, having grabbed 25 for 379 yards. On third-and-14 last week against the Giants, Sanders hauled in a 70-yard touchdown strike from rookie Jake Plummer, a career-long reception and the longest scoring pass for the Cardinals in nearly five years.

"With guys like Frank and Rob, it makes my job easier," said Plummer, who will be making his fifth start against the Ravens. "They're tall and fast, with great hands and strength. They not only make great catches, but after the catch, they'll make some great runs."

Their height -- Moore is 6 feet 3, 205 pounds; Sanders is 6-1, 202 -- has always helped them go over cornerbacks to grab passes. But this season has been somewhat different, both receivers said, in that their focus has been on gaining chunks of yardage after making the catch.

"That's probably been my main emphasis," said Moore. "That, and just kind of making some of the tough, tough catches."

And scoring touchdowns. One of the biggest knocks on the duo in recent years has been their inability to get the ball in the end zone.

Sanders' touchdown reception last week was his first since the second week of the season and only his second overall.

Moore had one touchdown through his first seven games this year but has caught three in the past four games.

By comparison, 16 players around the league have caught at least five touchdowns this season. Nine of them have six or more.

Moore has never caught more than six touchdowns in a season. Sanders' career high is four.

"If there's one part of my game that I would really like to improve on and change, that would be it," Moore said.

"We have vowed to get in the end zone more, because we know that we're big-play guys," said Sanders. "How do you know if a guy's a big-play guy? Not because he makes the plays that go in the stats, but because he gets the ball in the end zone."

Nevertheless, the tandem's output this season is impressive, considering the state of the league's 23rd-ranked offense.

With the playoffs once again out of reach, the Cardinals have handed the ball to Plummer, the hometown hero who has struggled but is improving.

The Cardinals' rushing attack is ranked last in the NFL, with an average of 82 yards per game, meaning opponents have been blitzing and focusing on the receivers.

Still, all things considered, Sanders can only laugh.

"Everything is working together for us so well, it's funny," he said.

Said Moore: "We're going to have to keep the passing game going, because that's been the one strong point we've had this year."

Cardinals at a glance

Last game: Lost to New York Giants, 19-10, Sunday.

Last meeting with the Ravens: This is the teams' first meeting.

Who's hot: Quarterback Jake Plummer set an NFL rookie record when he passed for 388 yards last week. Plummer connected on 22 of 33 passes, including a 70-yard bomb to Frank Sanders for Arizona's only touchdown. But he also threw two fourth-quarter interceptions that ended the team's chances for a victory. The Giants led only 16-10 when Plummer threw the first, leading Rob Moore too far because of the tricky wind at Giants Stadium. Jason Sehorn picked off the throw and returned it 41 yards to set up a clinching field goal by Brad Daluiso. Plummer is 10th in the NFC in fourth-quarter passing, hitting 19 of 33 passes for 266 yards and a 78.6 rating.

Who's not: Arizona can't seem to get its running game in gear. Plummer got little support from a ground game that ranks last in the league.

Pub Date: 11/21/97

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