Expect Favre, Packers to bounce back

For Brett Favre, the 2005 season was two seasons in one. The first part of the year Favre was putting up the numbers he normally does. The Mississippi gunslinger had 14 touchdown passes and 8 interceptions through the first six games of the year. While those numbers were typical of Favre, the team's record was not.

The Packers were 1-5 at that point of the year. The team had suffered some serious injuries to Favre's playmakers as well. Javon Walker was lost for the season in Week 1 with a knee injury. Najeh Davenport was lost for the season in game five with a broken ankle. Ahman Green was lost for the season with a quad injury vs the Vikings in the team's sixth game. Bubba Franks had already missed three games with a sprained knee and would be injury prone all year.

The second part of Favre's season began with the five interception game against the Bengals in game seven. Favre never recovered as he went on to throw just six TD passes over the last 10 games while throwing 21 interceptions. The reasons were many. The devastating injuries added up. The losses of guards Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera to free agency left a huge void in the offensive line. The Packers were almost always playing from behind. Favre was playing with what Ron Wolf termed "NFL Europe-caliber" talent at times. The play-calling was suspect at times.

Yet, to Favre and the Packers' credit, the team was in just about every game. Not until the Monday night debacle against the Baltimore Ravens (a 48-3 loss), did the team show any signs of quitting. Green Bay lost five games by three points or less in 2005. The team lost eight games by a TD or less. But the bottom line was a 4-12 record. Head coach Mike Sherman lost his job.

But the 2006 season looks to be different for Favre and the Packers. They say a pitcher's best friend is the double play ball. Favre could get a nice double play if the defense and special teams improve significantly. Field position and turnovers almost invariably determine the winner of a football game. The Packers have players now that can give Favre and the offense a better chance to succeed. The defense has added Ryan Pickett, A.J. Hawk, Abdul Hodge and Ben Taylor, Charles Woodson and Marquand Manuel. The hope is that these players will help force other teams off the field and also force turnovers that will kick start the offense.

Special teams can do the same thing. The Packers drafted three players that can instantly improve the return game in Greg Jennings, Cory Rodgers and Will Blackmon. The coverage teams will be helped with players like Hodge. Ryan Longwell is gone, but so are his short kickoffs. Longwell was a great kicker for the Packers during his years in Green Bay, but his 2005 kicking performance was anything but great. Mediocre and inconsistent might be better words. Billy Cundiff gets the first shot at replacing Longwell. Cundiff needs better consistency with his field goals, but his kickoffs will be much better than Longwell's. Look for Canadian punter Jon Ryan to unseat B.J. Sander as well. Ryan has a huge leg that can alter field position. He is also used to kicking in inclimate weather.

But what about the offense? New head coach Mike McCarthy is running a more pure form of the West Coast offense. There will be more passes in the middle of the field. There will be more play action. More higher percentage pass attempts. There will also be a zone-blocking technique utilized in the running game. The Packers hope that the offensive line can be effective in this scheme.

As of now, it appears that the Packers will start two rookies at guard - Daryn Colledge on the left side and Jason Spitz on the right side. This should not alarm Favre. After all, he played behind two rookie tackles in 2000. They were Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher, two of the better tackles in the NFL. If you can play, experience doesn't matter. Colledge and Spitz seem to have the athletic skills that the Packers are looking for in the new blocking approach.

What about the playmakers? The Packers traded away the disgruntled Walker on draft day. That left them with one bonafide playmaker at wide receiver in Donald Driver. The Packers are hoping that Robert Ferguson can finally play to his potential. I wouldn't count on that happening. Other wide receivers in the mix are Rod Gardner, Marc Boerigter, and the rookies Jennings and Rodgers. Look for Jennings to be a player right away, possibly even a starter. A longshot that has opened some eyes is Ruvell Martin.

The tight ends will see the ball a lot in this offense. That is good news for Bubba Franks, David Martin and Donald Lee. The three combined for 85 catches in 2005. Look for more than 100 catches between the three this year. Look for Franks to become the red zone threat he always has been in 2006 and for Martin to split out wide at times for mismatches with the secondary.

The three top running backs are all coming off injuries. Green, Davenport and the surprising Samkon Gado all suffered season-ending injuries. If all are healthy for 2006, the depth at the position will be a positive. Look for Noah Herron to make the team as well as a HB/FB to give the team even more depth at HB. William Henderson will return as the starter at FB and will do his usual good job. The zone-blocking scheme will give the backs a chance to make big yardage. And also give the QB a chance to utilize play action.

Before 2005, Favre had two previous seasons where he threw more interceptions to TD passes. Favre bounced back with solid seasons both times. Look for Favre and the Packers to bounce back in 2006. After a 4-12 season, bouncing back could mean 8 wins. Or more. Time will tell, but in the NFC North, 9-7 could win the divisional crown. Beating the Bears in Week 1 will set the stage for that possibility.

When it is all said and done in 2006, I expect Favre to have extend his game starting streak to 237 games. I expect Favre to overtake Dan Marino as the the all-time leader in career TD passes and completions. More importantly, I expect Favre to be right at the door when it comes to all-time wins for a QB in the NFL. Favre needs nine wins to tie John Elway at 148 as the all-time leader in wins. That sounds about right.

Editor's note: Bob Fox is a longtime Packers fan and frequent contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at greenbaybob@hotmail.com.

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