Favre more important than ever

For more than a decade, the Green Bay Packers have been his team. Entering his 14th season as the starting quarterback, that will be true now more than ever.

The team Brett Favre will convene with later this month for the start of training camp may be the worst of his tenure. Not to confuse the 2005 Packers with the 2004 49ers, but Green Bay's strengths aren't as strong and its weaknesses are weaker than in any season in recent memory.

To be sure, the Packers have enough talent to make the playoffs. But if Favre has eyes on something bigger than just a brief foray into the postseason, then it will be up to him to deliver the goods.

Last season, Favre helped the Packers win the NFC North, but the postseason was an embarrassing one-and-done ordeal. Even repeating that modest amount of success will be a challenge this season. By now, you know what's happened in the last few months

* Two of the best guards in the game, Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle, departed during free agency.

* Tight end Bubba Franks is unhappy with the one-year deal he received by being named the team's transition player. He skipped both off-season minicamps.

* Wide receiver Javon Walker is unhappy with his contract and skipped both off-season minicamps.

* Nose tackle Grady Jackson suddenly is unhappy with his contract. He attended both minicamps, though he did not practice as he recovers from off-season knee injury.

Protracted holdouts by all three players seem more likely than not.

* One of the worst defenses in the history of the franchise did little to improve. New coordinator Jim Bates, part of a overhaul of the coaching staff on that side of the ball, should help, but Bates can't rush the passer and Bates can't cover a wide receiver.

* Darren Sharper was released and signed with the hated Vikings. Sure, Sharper was overrated, but if you think Arturo Freeman or Earl Little are upgrades, you're nuts.

* Minnesota bought a quality defense to match with its potent offense.

At some point, Franks and Walker will show up. Either they'll miss their paychecks or the Packers will miss their production.

Thus, the changes on the offensive line are the most pressing issue on that side of the ball. With holdovers Chad Clifton, Mark Tauscher and Mike Flanagan returning, the unit should remain one of the better ones in the league. Still, a dropoff in production is to be expected.

The Packers averaged 4.3 yards per rush in 2004, 5.0 yards in 2003 and 4.3 yards in 2002. That meant Favre benefitted from a number of second-and-5s and third-and-2s. Those are dream situations for whoever is calling the plays. Even if the play of the line drops just a little, those second-and-5s will become second-and-7s just a little more frequently. Those third-and-2s might become third-and-3s or 4s.

Instead of forcing the defense to guess run or pass, the Packers will face more pure passing situations this season.

Thus, more pressure on Favre to make plays. And more pressure on Favre as opposing pass rushers don't have to contend with Wahle and Rivera.

Throw in the fact the defense can't be counted on to hold the opposition to less than 24 points a game, that's a lot of pressure on the offense to produce on practically every possession.

With the running game poised to fall from its dominance of the past few years, that pressure falls heavily on Favre.

Lawrence is a longtime Packers fan, former football coach and writer from Green Bay who will be a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com

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