Favre Has Taken Shots; Can Packers Do Same?

Brett Favre is off to a bad start, in part because he's been hit early and often by defenses this season. Favre threw seven touchdown passes with no interceptions in a two-game sweep of Green Bay last year. Critically, he was not sacked in either game.

Brett Favre has taken his share of shots this year.

To his surgically repaired ankle. To his sore elbow. From the court of public opinion. And, most importantly in the context of Sunday night's Favre Bowl III at Lambeau Field, from opposing defenses.

Favre, in a conference call with Packers beat reporters on Wednesday, said the "stars were in line" last year, a magical season that would have had the Vikings playing in the Super Bowl had they not treated the football like it was covered in grease in the NFC championship game against the Saints.

The stars haven't aligned this season for the 41-year-old Hall of Famer-in-waiting. Last year, his touchdown-to-interception ratio of 33-to-7 was the best of his career. His seven interceptions were the fewest of his career. In five games this year, he's already thrown seven interceptions. He's tossed six touchdowns for the NFL's 24th-ranked passing offense.

With a bum ankle that has sapped him of much of his ad-libbing ability and an elbow that has reduced his accuracy if not his velocity, Favre simply looks old.

Hey, it happens to everybody.

During the Vikings' sweep of the Packers last year, Favre was nothing short of amazing. In the 30-23 win at the Metrodome, he threw for 271 yards and three touchdowns. In his triumphant return to Lambeau Field a month later, he threw for 244 yards and four touchdowns. In those games, he completed 69.5 percent of his passes with a passer rating of 114.7.

The most important figure, however, is zero — as in sacks.

"We have to get pressure on Brett," defensive end Ryan Pickett said. "The last two games, I don't think we sacked him. That definitely can't happen this time if we want to win. We have to get pressure on the quarterback, we have to get him down, we have to get some sacks."

A huge factor will be the healthy return of Clay Matthews. It's not just that Matthews leads the NFL with 8.5 sacks, but without him last week against Miami, the Packers' second-ranked pass rush couldn't get to Chad Henne.

Favre isn't untouchable. While he's not quite an "iron deer on the lawn" — Vikings coach Brad Childress's funny line from a conference call with Packers beat reporters on Wednesday — his mobility is on the wane. He's been sacked 13 times in five games, with only three quarterbacks being sacked more times per game. Favre was dropped four times in 38 dropbacks against the Jets two weeks ago and three times in just 22 dropbacks against Dallas last week. Both teams run 3-4 defenses.

Moreover, the Vikings' once-formidable offensive line is average, at best. Neither of the tackles, left tackle Bryant McKinnie and right tackle Phil Loadholt, are even considered above-average pass blockers. They haven't found a capable replacement for Pro Bowl center Matt Birk. Childress indicated pass protection is his team's biggest issue.

"You've seen some of the games that he's played in, the games where people have gotten pressure on him and the games where they haven't, you can definitely see the difference back there in the pocket," said defensive end Cullen Jenkins, who has four sacks. "We'd like to go out there and get a lot of pressure on him. We can get after the run early and force him into more passing downs so we have more of an opportunity to get after him."

Question is, can the Packers duplicate the success enjoyed by the Cowboys and Jets? Favre was sacked 34 times last season. He was not sacked in just three games last year, but two of those came against Green Bay. The defense's inability to get to Favre in those games is part of a larger trend, with Favre boasting an 8-0 record in games in which Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers was a head coach or defensive coordinator.

"Jeez, I'd forgotten all about that," Capers joked on Monday when reminded about the Favre-vs.-Capers stories that were written last year.

With ample time in last season's games, Favre dissected the Packers' secondary. The Vikings still don't have Sidney Rice because of hip surgery, but they replaced him a couple weeks ago with Randy Moss. That allows Percy Harvin to go back to the slot, where he's a dynamic threat. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe isn't a big step down from Jermichael Finley. And, of course, there's always Adrian Peterson to hand the ball.

"Well, i think every game's a new game and every year's a new year," Capers went on to say. "Your teams change, too. I mean, our team's changed a lot from the first of the season here."

Capers knows pressuring Favre will be important. However, as always when it comes to Capers' game plan, the key will be stopping Peterson. Blitzing the quarterback is suicide if it's second-and-4 or third-and-1 all night, and it's just as pointless if the Vikings pull a page from the Dolphins' playbook and keep seven blockers in on most passing plays.

"It's going to depend on what we think it's going to take to win the game," he said. "And you just have to understand, what's the value and what point in the game in terms of how much you're going to pressure as opposed to how much you're going to cove. Yeah, you'd always like to keep the quarterback to where you can force him into making poor decisions and that type of thing. But they've got a lot of other weapons. If you start zeroing in on Brett Favre, the next thing you know, Peterson and Moss and Harvin, those guys ..."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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