Sunday, November 12, 2006

Game Review: Pass-Happy Playcalling Raises Eyebrows

Green Bay - There were many career passing records that Packer fans looked for Brett Favre to challenge in 2006. Packer and Favre Fans hoped that he’d make some serious threats to the all-time touchdown passes or passing yardage records. Favre Critics were more hoping he’d throw enough interceptions to break that career mark, so the calls for Aaron Rodgers could commence. But of all the records he was in line for, one record that did not seem within reach is suddenly coming more and more into focus.

With all the talk about implementing a zone blocking scheme, getting Ahman Green back, and reining in Brett’s sloppy play from 2005, most of us didn’t think that Favre would again be leading the NFL in pass attempts. Last season, coupled with the Packers’ worst rushing attack* in franchise history, Favre attempted an NFL-high and career-high 607 passes. Directly or indirectly, he also threw 29 interceptions.

However, despite the constant raves about the effectiveness of our zone blocking scheme and the repeated 100 yard games by our running backs, Brett Favre is still being asked to pass over 40 times a game.


After the Minnesota game, Brett now has 352 passing attempts. This gives him nearly 40 per game, and now has him on pace for 625 attempts for the season. This number would not only break his own career mark, and likely lead the league again this season, but would place him in fourth place overall for most attempts in a season…in NFL history.


Dan Marino holds the record for most career passing attempts with 8358. Favre now trails with 7963, a difference of only 395. Being that Favre had trailed going into the season by 747, it was assumed that Favre would have no chance of coming close this season, especially if McCarthy was as committed to the run game as he professed he would be.

But, Favre seems to be enjoying success this season (and enjoying himself, to boot), and had yet another game without an interception (that’s four out of the last five games). Clearly, the attempts aren’t as proportional to the interceptions this year as they seemed to be last year. One reason is relatively obvious: even if he is being asked to pass even more often than last season, he’s playing with much more control and acting as a game manager, using his veteran skills to elude the rush and make the kind of plays he’s established his Hall of Fame reputation on: light on the Hail Mary’s and heavy on the 10-yard bullets.

But why is Mike McCarthy relying on the pass so often? Critics of the McCarthy hiring back in February noted that Favre had the second-highest pass attempts of his career under McCarthy’s coaching influence in 1999. However, we were assured that this team would have a commitment to the run game, and that he certainly wouldn’t be asked to pass 600 times again this season.

625, anyone?

There were certainly some points during certain games this season in which the Packers were behind, and it justified the need for going heavily into the passing game. However, against the Vikings, the Packers held a lead for most of the entire game.

The most intriguing stat that I found, however, was the fourth quarter. Leading by at least six points throughout the entire quarter, you would think that the Packers would be utilizing their run game, their apparently successful zone blocking scheme, and perhaps one of the best running backs in Packer history to eat up the clock and take us home with a victory.

Nope, out of fifteen offensive plays in the fourth quarter, Favre attempted fourteen passes. Of those fourteen, six were out of the shotgun formation. There was a point in the game (shortly after Bubba Franks’ reception) that I got that feeling of dread that the defense was going to start playing back and waiting for an interception. I got the feeling that, despite having a comfortable lead and seeing our defense holding Brad Johnson in check throughout the entire second half, we were going to go to the well one too many times and let them back in the game.


Now, we can all breathe a sigh of relief, because it didn’t bite the offense in the end. The Packers won the game, on the road, against a hated rival, and despite being asked to pass repeatedly when conventional wisdom would suggest against it, Favre finished with great numbers, no interceptions, and a 100+ passing efficiency rating.

But that sigh of relief may be the same kind that we breathed after David Martin and Donald Driver caught passes over the middle for touchdowns from the 1-yard line in past weeks, dangerous and risky plays that were unnecessary and designed to fool the other team instead of beating them straight up. When Favre’s similar pass was intercepted last week in the end zone, suddenly, we all realized how risky the play call was, and debated the scapegoat for days.

The Vikings are a team still experiencing a culture change under a new coach, and are on a three game skid, losing their last two games against teams perceived to be among the league’s lower-quarter. Perhaps we caught them at the right time this season, and we got away with throwing the ball in situations that didn’t call for a pass.

Favre has, admittedly, played well under these circumstances. Some point to his mediocre pass completion numbers, or his lower touchdown totals as evidence that he’s not the quarterback he used to be. However, despite being asked to pass more than any quarterback in the league, his percentage-to-attempt ratio ranked 11th in the league last week, and will likely be higher after official results come out after Week 10.

Meanwhile, Ahman Green got only 55 yards today on 22 carries (a 2.5 ypc), and only one rushing attempt in the fourth quarter. Perhaps our zone blocking scheme isn’t as far along as we had hoped, and playing against a more formidable run defense demonstrated the fact that this line still has a long ways to go (particularly getting Bubba Franks out of the backfield to help with pass protection). Apparently, if the running game isn’t working, you start passing. Exclusively. Even when you’re ahead.

But, if that is the case, then I guess Mike McCarthy is pretty lucky to have a guy like Brett Favre under center to take the heat. No wonder McCarthy said that he is hoping Favre returns for another season next year.

Perhaps the Favre Critics are right. Perhaps McCarthy is in on a subversive effort to help Favre “get his records”. Indeed, he only stands 11 TD passes away from tying Marino, 89 completions from tying Marino, and 14 interceptions away from tying Blanda.

As long as Favre keeps throwing 40+ times a game, both those records are certainly in danger.

* Author’s Note: The term “attack” mentioned in relation to the 2005 Packer rushing game is used merely as a common phrase of reference, and not in any way intended as a genuine reflection of the effectiveness of that squad.

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