Remember all the "gunslinger" references to Brett Favre before the Vikings signed him prior to the 2009 season?
Favre was called a "riverboat gambler" and other such comparisons. At times, those were flattering references to illustrate his competitiveness and love of the game. In other instances – just ask Packers fans who remember the end of his career in Green Bay – those words conjured memories of ill-advised throws and collapses under pressure.
Favre turned nearly all those negative connotations around with his incredible 2009 season … until, once again, at the end, when he threw one final confounding pass across his body into traffic that was intercepted at the end of regulation as the Vikings were on the outer edge of field goal range with less than 20 seconds to go in regulation in the NFC Championship Game. There would be no return to the Super Bowl for the Vikings or Favre, and his 2010 season was disastrous from pretty much beginning to end.
So what was the difference last year compared to his celebrated revival season in 2009? For one, as many have pointed out, there was no Sidney Rice as Favre's Pro Bowl target for much of last year. There were the off-the-field issues as well, as Favre's name and alleged sexting habits couldn't be avoided as a potential distraction for him and the team. As much as he and the team tried to say it wasn't a distraction, by the end of the season, because of Favre and many other influences (the Randy Moss trade-and-release debacle, the firing of head coach Brad Childress in November and the literal delay of games because of roof collapses and weather), the Vikings were simply done.
While the distractions and stress are hard to quantify, maybe the best statistical data about what happened to Favre on the field can be found in a study of quarterbacks handling pressure done by the web site Pro Football Focus. The magic of Favre that produced 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2009 was left back on his Hattiesburg ranch right next to the extricated bone chips from his ankle.
The beating Favre took in the NFC Championship Game seemed to stick with him in 2010. He entered the season still talking about his ankle and, after several other injuries along the way, ended the season without the all-time ironman being able to play. When he was on the field, he was a chuck-and-duck quarterback, limited by his thinned receiving corps and his own inability to escape the pressure because of his inflated age and ankle.
Blame the offensive line if you must, but, according to the PFF study, Favre was pressured only an average amount of time (33.68 percent of the time he dropped back to pass, ranking 14th) but didn't handle those instances well. His completion percentage was 47.17 when pressured, 19th among the quarterbacks, and that was a decrease of 19.10 percent from when he wasn't pressured – the fourth-worst drop among the QBs in the top 20.
It gets worse. Favre's touchdown percentage of 3.10 with pressure was 13th, but his 6.98 interception percentage with pressure was the worst of the top 34 quarterbacks list in the study. If Favre was a riverboat gambler in 2010, he not only went broke, but the boat sunk to the bottom of the river with Favre and the rest of the Vikings in it. He threw more than twice as many interceptions as touchdowns when pressured, turning an average performance from the offensive line into an exposed wound and giving more reason for the Vikings to move on with a different quarterback plan in 2011.
After months of referencing young quarterbacks like Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez, new head coach Leslie Frazier and the Vikings selected Christian Ponder in the first round of the draft. After looking at PFF's study on how quarterbacks handled pressure last year, it's easy to see why Frazier liked what he saw in the league's new young guns (their guns were fired more judiciously under pressure). Ryan led the study with 10 times more touchdowns than interceptions under pressure. Tampa Bay's young quarterback, Josh Freeman, was third with 3.33 times more TDs, Flacco had 1.25 times more and Sanchez 1.20 times more TDs than interceptions. All four of those young quarterbacks ranked in the top 11.
Putting it all together, the raw data illustrates the deficiencies in Favre's game in 2010, despite the fact that the Vikings relied heavily on Adrian Peterson to keep defenses honest (he was top 10 in rushing yards and attempts per game).
Whoever the Vikings have at quarterback in 2011 – Ponder, Joe Webb or a veteran acquisition – doesn't have to be great to improve over Favre's lackluster 2010, they simply need to handle the pressure better than the 20-year veteran of the NFL did.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Favre's failings show in study
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