John Crist: NFL experts from near and far were calling for Brett Favre to stop embarrassing himself after throwing 29 interceptions in 2005, recommending his immediate retirement to save him from himself. Now he's cruising along with a 97.3 passer rating at just shy of 38 years old and guiding the Packers to a better-than-expected 4-0 record. Quite simply, what's been the difference?
Todd Korth: The age-defying ironman is simply making much better decisions this season. He's not throwing the ball deep as much, nor is he trying to thread the needle to hit a receiver amongst three defenders. Favre says that he is reviewing film on opponents more than ever before, and that homework has paid off in his numbers to date. Head coach Mike McCarthy, the team's play-caller, trusts in Favre to change plays in the huddle or at the line of scrimmage. In turn, Favre has been making the correct adjustments to beat defenses that are often in a nickel formation on first down because the Packers have the worst rushing attack in the league and have been quite pass-happy.
Favre's accuracy has been above average, and he still has a strong arm. Heck, he'll probably be able to roll out of bed when he's 65 and wing the ball the length of a football field. Though opponents' cornerbacks have been crowding Packers receivers at the line of scrimmage to cut off slant routes, Favre has made the adjustments necessary to find the open receiver. He has spread the ball around – 10 different receivers against the Vikings last Sunday – and has quickly become a nightmare for defensive coordinators.
JC: Despite Green Bay's early-season success, they're having a miserable time running the football – dead last in the league at just 54.3 yards per game. Brandon Jackson was drafted in the second round and expected to flourish after veteran Vernand Morency went down with an injury, but now he's losing carries to seventh-round rookie DeShawn Wynn. Did the front office underestimate the value of Ahman Green?
RB Brandon Jackson
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TK: The front office valued Green, but not at more than $5 million per season. The Texans overpaid for Green, who is on the downside of his career, and it's hard to blame general manager Ted Thompson for not trying to out-bid Houston for Green's services.
What is perplexing is that Thompson didn't sign a veteran back in the off-season just in case Morency and Jackson didn't pan out. Lo and behold, Morency, the projected starter, injured his knee the first day of training camp and just returned to action in a third-down role last Sunday. Jackson has been trying to find his way but really is no more than a third-down back. Wynn also missed a chunk of training camp with injuries. He has good instincts and some promise but by no means is a starting caliber back, so the Packers are pretty much screwed right now when it comes to running the ball.
There were some rumors flying around that Thompson made a trade offer for Kansas City's Larry Johnson this off-season, and wouldn't he be a sigh of relief right now for the Packers, eh? But the Packers' backfield is what it is – extremely young – and there's a chance that it will improve as the season progresses, but first McCarthy will have to give his line and backs more confidence by calling a few more running plays.
JC: It was assumed heading into the season that Favre did not have enough weapons around him in order to succeed, but Pro Bowler Donald Driver hasn't been working alone on the outside. Rookie James Jones is second on the team in receptions right now, and sophomore Greg Jennings is starting to come around after an injury derailed a promising 2006. We know about Driver, so tell us more about Jones and Jennings.
TK: Jennings and Jones are the real deal. Both are very capable of making plays, as they showed on Sunday when Jennings caught Favre's record-breaking touchdown pass early in the game and Jones snared the game-clincher late against the Vikings.
Jennings has the ‘it' factor that quarterbacks and offensive coordinators love. He says he is at the point now where he and Favre can glance at each other at the line of scrimmage and know what each is thinking. That's a good thing. For example, Jennings knew that Favre was coming to him for No. 421 Sunday when Favre went to tight end Donald Lee as the play clock was winding down and told Lee to run a different route.
Jones has picked up where he left off after a strong training camp. He has shown an ability to create separation to get open and does not hesitate at catching passes over the middle when he knows he'll have to withstand a bone-crunching hit. He is making the most of opportunities when defenses shade to Driver. Once he figures out how to run better with the ball after making the catch, he will be that much more of a threat.
JC: A.J. Hawk gets a lot of chatter around the NFL because he was a high draft pick last year. While he's on his way to being a very good player, it's Nick Barnett who's leading this team in tackles and appears to be playing out of his mind right now. He's always been a productive linebacker, but why do you feel he's having his best season to date?
LB Nick Barnett
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TK: Barnett has been around the ball since he became a starter during his rookie season in 2003. He led the team in tackles for three straight years and finished second to Hawk last year, but this year he is back on track to leading the team in tackles mainly because of the strong defensive line in front of him.
The Packers awarded Barnett with a lucrative contract extension (six years, $34.85 million with $12 million in guaranteed money) this past off-season, and he's living up to the deal.
JC: Charles Woodson and Al Harris are two of the bigger-name cornerbacks in this league, but they only have four passes defensed between them and neither has registered an interception. Are they to blame for the Packers surrendering 232.3 yards per game through the air, good for just 23rd in the league? Or are the young safeties – Atari Bigby and Nick Collins – more culpable?
TK: Harris and Woodson have had their ups and downs, but Harris also has been playing through some back pain that has bothered him since training camp. Their numbers of passes defensed are down because most teams usually aim toward nickelback Jarrett Bush to gain yards through the air. The bottom line is that Harris and Woodson have only given up one touchdown each in four games, so they are still very effective, physical cornerbacks.
Bigby and Collins have also had their ups and downs and each has given up some big plays, but they have been steady. In the last three weeks, opponents have had to pass a lot against the Packers because of early deficits, so the pass ranking at this point in the season can be a little misleading.