|Talented, unheralded supporting cast key to Favre's resurgence|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 03 January 2008 13:23|
The occasional ``Lambeau Leap'' aside, fellow Green Bay Packers wide receivers Greg Jennings and James Jones couldn't choreograph a touchdown celebration stunt if you spotted them the Sharpie and a bag of popcorn.
Running back Ryan Grant's main claim to fame is he reminds folks of former Packers back Dorsey Levens. Tight end Donald Lee was third on the Packers' depth chart last season.
No, Brett Favre's supporting cast doesn't look or act like a bunch of superstars. They don't run and jump like track stars, either - but that doesn't stop them from getting open and breaking tackles.
It just goes to show that you don't need a big name or gaudy scouting combine numbers to make big plays.
``I think the reason we are scoring is that we are talented,'' Favre said recently. ``It goes back to what I said last year.''
Favre raised eyebrows way back in the first few days of the Packers' 2006 training camp by suggesting that was the most talented he ever played on, causing many to wonder whether the three-time MVP was spending too much time in the late-summer sun.
Coming off an awful 4-12 season in 2005, the Packers seemed to be taking the first steps in what surely would be a multiyear rebuilding effort.
It turns out Favre was on to something. But after improving to 8-8 in 2006, even Favre didn't expect the Packers would be good enough to go 13-3 and help him revive his career with one of his best seasons ever.
``I hate to keep bringing it up because it was my statement, that this team was the most talented team I'd ever played on,'' Favre said. ``As I was saying that, I knew that it sounded crazy. But did I think this would happen? No. It's been put together rather quickly. The chemistry has materialized.''
Favre completed a career-high 66.5 percent of his passes this season, rebounding from a career-low 56 percent in 2006. After throwing a career-worst 29 interceptions in 2005, Favre cut his interception total to 15 as he threw for 4,155 yards and 28 touchdowns.
Packers wide receivers coach Jimmy Robinson said an improved supporting cast has played a major role in Favre's resurgence.
``If I can recoin the phrase from 1977, he's the straw that stirs the drink, as they said about Reggie Jackson,'' Robinson said. ``But at the same time, these guys have made plays for him when they've gotten the opportunities, and I'm sure he recognizes that.''
Under second-year coach Mike McCarthy, Favre is called upon to throw quick, accurate darts to receivers on the run. According to STATS LLC, the Packers led the NFL in yards after the catch this season - a statistic McCarthy said is emphasized from draft day to game day in Green Bay.
``Yards after the catch is a priority when you look at receivers, running backs and perimeter positions,'' McCarthy said. ``Our group has taken it to another level. There are a lot of conversations going on about yards after the catch.''
Jennings, who tied for fourth in the NFL with 12 touchdown catches this season, said Packers receivers aren't necessarily surprised at their success.
``We were pretty confident in ourselves before the season,'' Jennings said. ``And just being given the opportunity to make plays and make the best of those opportunities when they are presented themselves, it says a lot about our work ethic - and the quarterback who is getting us the ball in the right direction.''
Favre already had chemistry with Driver, his most trusted receiver for years. Although he scored only two touchdowns this season, Driver made the Pro Bowl after leading the Packers with 82 catches and 1,048 yards.
``I tell people, 'You could put Donald in a phone booth with 11 guys and it'll take 'em five minutes to touch him,''' Favre said.
But Favre admits that in the past, he has tried to force the ball to Driver despite frequent double coverage. The difference this year is Favre has other reliable options.
Driver and Jennings lead a passing game that deploys up to five wide receivers at a time. The so-called ``Big Five'' formation provides opportunities for Jones, Lee, Koren Robinson and Ruvell Martin, four players who combined for 13 touchdowns this season.
``We love that,'' Jennings said of the five-wide formations. ``It definitely puts some extra excitement under us knowing that somebody is going to get the ball. We all feel like we're going to get open at some point, and it's all about yards after the catch once we get it. There is only so much the defense can do when you see those kinds of sets.''
Favre said he wouldn't want to be a defensive coordinator charged with trying to figure out how to cover five good receivers at once.
``I mean, how do you cover that?'' Favre said.
It's even harder to cover now that Grant has established himself as a big-play threat in the running game.
Grant, obtained in a trade with the New York Giants just before the start of the season, ran for 956 yards and eight touchdowns despite not taking over as the team's main running back until the seventh game of the season.
Still, the Packers remain a pass-first team - and a very good one, thanks to the trust Favre has built with players such as Driver, Jennings and Jones.
``I know what Donald's going to do without even looking,'' Favre said. ``I'm getting to the point where I know what Greg's going to do, I trust him. James is evolving into that, and I think that makes as much difference as anything. How fast a guy runs, how high he jumps, is important. But not as important as being on the same page.''