Favre needs to be cut loose

Without Walker, Packers too conservative with quarterback

These are frustrating times for Brett Favre. The Green Bay Packers star quarterback has been trying to play "within himself" and without Javon Walker, the team's leading receiver. The offense is misfiring and Green Bay is suddenly 0-2.

Thus far, the combination of Favre playing conservatively at the coach's urging and a roster that consists of many rookies and free agents has left the Packers in a familiar early-season hole. Up next, the 2-0 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday at Lambeau Field, where the Packers have not established any kind of advantage in recent seasons.

The numbers that the offense put up agaist the Cleveland Browns in Green Bay's 26-24 loss on Sunday are misleading. Favre passed for 342 yards and three touchdowns with a passer rating of 98.9. At first glance, that's not a bad day. The offense rolled up a whopping 452 net yards, the most since they piled up 460 in a Christmas Eve win last year against Minnesota. Favre said after the game Sunday that he has been reminded by head coach Mike Sherman to not try to carry the team on his shoulders.

"It's kind of ironic (because) Mike (Sherman) and I talked yesterday after the walkthrough," Favre said, "He said, ‘Brett, I know we've had this conversation probably the last three or four years, but I really want you to feel like you don't have to do too much.' I know where he's coming from and what he means more than anything – play your game but try your best not to make it any worse than what it is. Play your game and within yourself."

Without Walker, who sustained a season-ending knee injury in Week 1 against Detroit, Favre has for the most part making the "safe" pass rather than trying to whistle it through three defenders. Of the 44 passes that Favre threw Sunday against the Browns, completing 32, many of them were of the dink and dunk variety. He 42-yard touchdown throw to wide receiver Donald Driver in the first quarter was his longest completion of the day, and that came off of a crossing pattern by Driver. Favre threw the ball about 10-15 yards to Driver, who caught it on the run and raced past the Browns' secondary.

Without Walker in the lineup, Green Bay's main deep threat, the Browns defense had the luxury of keeping the Packers in front of them. As a result, Favre and the offense was not able to stretch the field against Cleveland. You can bet that Tampa Bay will play the Packers the same way. If you think Favre is having trouble, check with Minnesota and Daunte Culpepper. The Vikings are having the same problems stretching the field without Randy Moss.

"You can't replace Javon," Favre said. "Our guys will do a good job, but right now we're moving our guys around, trying to find the right combination. After Donald and Fergie (Robert Ferguson), we're very inexperienced, struggling to line up correctly, which leads to indecision on their part, which leads to indecision from a quarterback's standpoint and even from a coach's standpoint.

"Sometimes you have to call plays that you don't call too often. The guys that aren't (normally) in the game that often have to be ready to run those plays."

When Green Bay fell behind 19-7, the Packers had to abandon their rushing attack and go almost strictly to the air.

Walker's injury caused a ripple effect with the receivers. Ferguson was moved into a new position behind Donald Driver. Second-round draft pick Terrence Murphy, coming off injuries that caused him to miss all of the team's preseason games and season opener, played in his first game with the Packers. There were times in the game when Favre had to align the receivers at the line of scrimmage because of their uncertainty.

What's a veteran quarterback to do? Favre says he's going back to his old ways. He might as well. At this point, the Packers have not been eliminated from playoff contention, but they'll never make it to the .500 mark with Favre holding the hands of his receivers each game.

"We've talked about this in preseason," Favre said, "I play tug of war with myself. I know we need to make plays but I know I can't put us in a deeper hole that we're in. To be honest with you, I don't know where I stand with it. I feel like I've got to go into every game and play to win. That's the only way I know how to do it. If I make mistakes along the way, then I just make mistakes. … In times like this, I think you just let it go. If it's enough to win, great. If not, so be it, but you've got to play the game to win every time you step out there. No one is going to hand us anything."

Not even the Browns, whom many feel is one of the worst teams in the National Football League this season.

Like in Week 1, Green Bay's offense started out slowly as it tried to mix the run and the pass. It wasn't until later in the second half, when Favre had to cut loose in an effort to lead the team back, that the offense scored a few touchdowns. The Packers had 148 yards of offense at halftime and 242 through three quarters when they were trailing 19-7. Green Bay rallied for 17 points in the fourth quarter and 210 yards of offense.

It is difficult to believe that Green Bay's offense is struggling as much as it is to finish drives and score points. But it will only struggle more if Favre is handcuffed by his coaches.

"We have to play to win," Favre said. "We've got to start the first play like it's our last. That's the way I play. If I put too much pressure on myself, then so be it. I don't have too many years left. I'm going to try to get everything I can out of it and play the game a certain way. That's the only way I play it. Hopefully in the process I don't hurt our football team."

There is still plenty of football left for the Packers. He has some solid receivers to work with in Driver, Ferguson and Bubba Franks. Give Favre the ball and let's see how far he can carry the Packers.

Todd Korth

Note: Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at packrepted@aol.com.

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