Thursday, August 24, 2006

Favre and Marino: How McCarthy Has It DIfferently

In the back of many of our minds, one of the last things we want to see happen to Brett Favre is for him to finish our his career in the same manner as Dan Marino: petulant, bitter, and finally, having to be sat down for simply not being able to adapt to a new regime.

Last season, Favre's penchant for overpassing made some people believe that he was on his way, his hubris and refusal to believe that he was no longer young and talented was going to force Thompson and McCarthy to ask him to retire, or regulate him to the bench. Just like Marino.

However, there are some differences between the two quarterbacks, differences that I think not only make McCarthy's job a lot easier than Jimmy Johnson had to deal with, but actually make his path clear as it deals with making Favre's final season or two the most productive there is.

From Marino's first season, his performances were defined by two things: a lot of passing yards, and a lot of passing touchdowns. We won't bother to add that he also had only one Super Bowl appearance in his entire storied career, one his team couldn't win.

Marino was always the man looked to when it came time to flex offensive muscle, and he didn't back down from it. Like Peyton Manning today, he would always prefer to pass over the run.

Quick, over Marino's entire career, from 1982 through 1998, name all of the 1000 yard rushers that he had playing with him.

Go ahead.

Okay, one. In 1996, Karim Abdul-Jabbar ran for 1116 yards...the ONLY time in Marino's career he had a considerable running game. This means that througout the bulk of his early career, particularly his most prolific, Dan Marino was a one man show, and the running game was a revolving door of "talents" that came in and out, taking the occasional rush to keep the defense "honest".

Marino developed a pretty considerable amount of pride in his acomplishments. Even by the time Jimmy Johnson came on board, he was already the NFL record holder for pass attempts, completions, yards, and touchdowns.

Now, try to tell a guy like this that he has to become a situational thrower, as the team is going to emphasize the run game. What do you think you're going to get? Exactly what Jimmy Johnson got: a quarterback who couldn't adjust, and didn't want to anyway. He wanted to play the way he always had: as a prolific, pass-first quarterback, even though his arm wasn't what it was, and the talent around him wasn't what it was, either.

The comparison between Marino's insane numbers over his first ten seasons and Favre's three MVP's are somewhat comprable, but on another hand, are not.

My supposition is that Brett Favre is not, nor ever has been, the egotistical passer that Marino was, and all a coach needs to do is tap into that respect Favre has shown for talent around him for him (and the offense) to be successful.

As some posters have been persistent in reminding us as late, the Super Bowl teams did not look to Favre as "the" leader, or "the face of the franchise". The honor of "leader" went to Reggie White, who truly was an on-the-field and in-the-locker room leader. With a plethora of other solid vets, from Sean Jones, Keith Jackson, LeRoy Butler, and Edgar Bennett, not to mention Frankie Winters, Mark Chmura, and Wayne Simmons, there was never a burden of leadership placed on Favre, nor a mantle of necessity for him to "win games" for everyone else.

It never seemed for one moment, however, that Favre wanted that role, or even wanted to be the man...the ONLY man...who could win games. We remember fondly how in the mid-90's, Favre would lead the opening drive for a touchdown, always add one to finish the first half, and then we would sit back and watch guys like Edgar Bennett and Dorsey Levens eat up chunks of time off the clock as they would reach 100 yards with third and fourth quarter drives.

Favre didn't insist on throwing more and more. He was content to win, and allow Dorsey and Edgar to become 1000 yard rushers. Yes, Favre won MVPs, as most quarterbacks on winning teams always get consideration. Certainly, he deserved them, as he was both efficient and electrifying, but we all know that, like nearly any other MVP, his success was a product of team success. Barry Sanders may be one of the only MVPs that received such an award that was mostly for his individual success.

It was after Reggie left in 1998 that suddenly, pressure was placed on Brett to stop being just a "leader by example" and to become the "vocal leader", primarily because every person I previously mentioned as the team leaders were now gone. Indeed, he did need to take on a more vocal role. But that never meant he craved it, or even wanted it.

But this is where the metamorphosis began with coaching style. When Holmgren left, Favre became less a source of "frustration", even that "idiot son" relationship he seemed to have with Holmgren, and quite suddenly, because the focal point of the team.

No point was this more uncomfortbaly evident than after the first game of 1999, when Ray Rhodes publicly thanked Brett Favre for winning the first game of the season for him. Think about that: do you ever think Holmgren (or Lombardi) would ever single out one player for winning the game? For the coach?

Brett went on that season to attempt the most passes of his career up to that point. The team finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs. The coaches were fired, and questions arose that Brett wasnt' the same quarterback anymore.

Now, think about that. Most attempts in his career, and Dorsey barely reached 1000 yards. Brett taking on a role too big for him, but seemingly expected to carry the team. Sound familiar?

The following years under Sherman were also fraught with criticism for Brett, particularly for his playoff performances. However, only in 2003 did his interceptions eclipse 20, and those seasons featured a prominent running back named Ahman Green.

In the 2002 and 2003 seasons, there began to be rumblings through the NFL, whispers that this was "no longer Brett Favre's team", but was now "Ahman Green's team". Favre was barely attempting 500 passes in these seasons (barely 450 in 2003), as Green punished defenses for 1500+ all purpose yards per season.

We waited in anticipation for the Marino-esque response from Favre, the self-annointed team leader who wanted it all to be about him, him, him.

But it didn't come.

In fact, and while I couldn't locate a link with a direct quote, Favre said that he liked the idea of this being "Ahman's team", that it was the strength of team, and it meant they weren't relying so heavily on him.

Brett Favre has NEVER been a guy who wanted to be the focal point of an offense. Yet he has handled that pressure and criticism as well as can be expected, sometimes gracefully, and sometimes bluntly.

When injuries decimated this team in 2005, resulting in the lowest rushing total per game in team history, we saw the revisiting of 1999, with the coach standing on the sideline, arms at his side, waiting for Brett to win the game for him and the rest of the team.

And Favre, to his credit and criticism, obliged, breaking his own record for passing attempts as the rushing game was forgotten about, game after game. Certainly, he became the lighting rod for his 29 interceptions.

But is that what Favre wants to do? Does he want to want to be that focal point, the "only guy who can win the game for us"?

I say no. And the times he was most successful as a quarterback, the time the team was most successful, were the time he only averaged 15-20 attempts a game. Because of the effectiveness of the running game, he made the most out of those attempts, consistenly throwing for more than 3000 yards a season. But he also had a running game that racked up 1200 yards a season or more.

This is true for nearly any offensive gameplan. Overdependance on the pass makes you the Colts, or the Dolphins of the 80's. How many Super Bowls have those two teams won?

The path for Mike McCarthy, who has already in his press conferences stated unequivocably that this team has to be committed to the run, is pretty darn clear, as it relates to Brett Favre, or Aaron Rodgers, for that matter.

Brett is a leader, but he prefers to be a leader by example.

Brett is a good passer, but we don't measure the success of the team by passing yards and passing attempts. For all the talk about how Favre is now 4th on the all-time interception list, he is also now #2 on the all-time pass attempts list, too.

You find a way to rein in the passing attempts, and I guarantee he won't break either record this season. And the way to do that is to establish and commit to the running game, as we did in our Super Bowl years, and as we did in the early 2000's.

I don't believe, for one second, that Brett Favre will be upset about emphasizing more handoffs to Ahman Green, or more slants and screens to keep the chains moving.

Favre does have to make that choice and commitment himself to playing within the system and avoiding the dangerous risks. The last two weeks of preseason, however, have done very little to prove that he is pulling a Marino on McCarthy.

But it is up to McCarthy to insure that he holds up his end of the bargain. And expecting Brett Favre to win the game for him, standing on the sideline with his arms at his side as he attempts pass after pass play won't be the way to go.

McCarthy's off to a good start. Let's hope that for his sake (and Brett's) that he has the fortitude to be consistent with it all season.

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