A reinvigorated Favre

Brett Favre's interception total is down and his "having-fun-playing-football" meter is in the red zone. PackerReport.com's Matt Tevsh says the working relationship that Favre and coach Mike McCarthy have built has helped the veteran quarterback's improvement this season.

There was Mike McCarthy on Wednesday pulling his Cadillac SUV right alongside Brett Favre's Ford pickup truck inside the Lambeau Field loading dock area. For years, Favre's truck has been the only vehicle parked in the make-shift space just outside the stadium's mailroom. It has been a fixture in Favre's daily routine after practice on most days to park there, and now his truck has company.

As unusual as it was to see another vehicle parked next to Favre's, it is even more atypical to think that a 42-year old rookie head coach like McCarthy could be giving the "old" quarterback's career a re-birth at such a late stage. In some ways, Favre is his superior by virtue of his 15 years in Green Bay.

Seven games into the season, though, the coaching change issued last January by general manager Ted Thompson has been a major benefit to Favre. Because of his error-free play, the Packers have a good chance to reach the .500 mark this Sunday at Buffalo.

After throwing 29 interceptions on a 4-12 team a season ago, Favre had every reason to believe it was time to retire. The Packers were embarking on a transitional phase with their roster and second-year quarterback Aaron Rodgers was waiting for his chance. Favre even said that learning a new offense under a new coach could mean the end of his career, but then changed his tune upon his return to the off-season OTA's. Halfway through training camp, he got by the language barrier that he originally feared and was ready to go for another season.

It was not until the past couple of games, though, that McCarthy's impact on Favre started to show. Though Favre has not put up gaudy numbers or any three-touchdown games in consecutive wins, he is making much better decisions. The change in offensive philosophy and play-calling, even in a minor way, has forced him to think differently and break out of the monotony of the old system. Simply put, he has a clearer mind.

Fueled by a strong running game the past two weeks, the Packers' passing game has been complementary. It may not be as dominant as Favre once ran it, but it has been similar in theory to a time when Favre's career reached its high point in the mid-90s.

"It more back to that philosophy than it has been in several years," said Favre.

Under Mike Holmgren, Favre ascended to legendary levels. He will not likely put up numbers like that again, but can still be productive. He has thrown just three touchdowns in the past two weeks (and has 10 for the season), but his streak of three games without an interception (and 106 straight attempts total) is his most impressive statistic. He has not gone three games without a pick since 2002.

Favre's interception-free play has helped the Packers win two straight games. It could have been three if not for a Favre fumble late in the fourth quarter against the Rams on Oct. 8.

The new Favre under McCarthy has a running game that will dictate flow and more options at the line of scrimmage. McCarthy is insistent on letting the running game rule the offense, but even when the Packers had a record rushing team in 2003 under Mike Sherman, Favre made his share of mistakes. He had 21 interceptions that year.

So besides an improved running game, why is Favre playing smarter?

McCarthy said Wednesday that Favre is making better decisions, perhaps the biggest reason he has only five interceptions. McCarthy's offense has allowed Favre to improve in this area because the system is more quarterback friendly. The offensive line is given maximum protection help from tight ends and backs when needed to ease the pass rush. The zone-blocking system limits negative plays creating more manageable down-and-distance situations. Plays are designed to give Favre multiple options at the line of scrimmage depending on what the defense gives him, a trend seen more around the league with experienced signal callers like Peyton Manning.

"More traditionally, you call a play and you may go up and go, ‘Oh my God, that's a bad play. I'm going to audible.' That's not what we're doing," explained McCarthy. "There's usually two or three options built into the play. Him making good decisions is probably a better way of stating it. He's making good decisions and keeping us in a better play particularly with the defenses we're playing against because they do have overload defensive schemes and things like that. As far as wholesale audibling? We've done very little of that this year."

Favre's experience and knowledge of defenses and plays give McCarthy reason to rely on him to make the correct decisions. Several factors played into Favre throwing 29 interceptions a year ago and making similar mistakes in 2003, but changes dictated by McCarthy's style have seemed to invigorate him.

Favre even ran for his first touchdown since 2001 last week against the Cardinals whereas he chose to pass when similar opportunities presented themselves in the past couple of years. Maybe seeing John Elway win a Super Bowl in 1998 against the Packers as a different, yet capable player is starting to rub off on Favre at 37.

As stubborn as Favre has been to change based on his history and what he has said, he gave the slightest of hints at his Wednesday news conference that he may be coming around. Let's say he is only 99% gunslinger now.

"When you fall behind (in a game) to a certain point to where you know you have to take some chances, it's a little bit tougher to play within the system," he said. "At least for me it is. When we're in the game, leading, or with each play, there's a chance we can win this game, I feel like I play the game differently. I don't want to say I play it cautious, but I may be a little reluctant to take certain chances."

McCarthy is getting through to Favre which may be his biggest accomplishment in his first season as Packers coach. Certainly his history with Favre as a position coach (1999) and that they view play-calling similarly is a big help. It gives them an advantage working together as a team.

"He's as coachable a player, regardless of his status in the history of this game, that I've ever been around," said McCarthy.

The last two weeks have given Packers' fans an indication that McCarthy and Favre are a good match - right down to the coveted spot where they park their vehicles after practice. There might just be some more magic left in Favre this season, and McCarthy is a big reason why.

Matt Tevsh

Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com.

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