Fitting Brett Favre Into the Vikings Offense: Leave Your Guns at Home

M. EccherCorrespondent IAugust 21, 2009

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 21: Quarterback Brett Favre #4 of the Minnesota Vikings passes the football against the Kansas City Chiefs at Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on August 21, 2009 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)

Picture this one, Vikings fans: Bernard Berrian streaks down the sideline, the Metrodome crowd roars, and Brett Favre cocks his arm back, looking for a home run.

Thrilling? Hell yes.

Advisable? Heck no.

At first blush, Favre seems like the perfect candidate to give Minnesota’s passing game, ranked No. 25 last season, some big-play pizazz. He brings a cannon arm to an offense that features Berrian, whom ESPN’s Christoper Harris calls “a bomb waiting to go off,” and Percy Harvin, who is no stranger to the long ball himself.

Favre likes to throw long; they like to go long. Even in practice, he sends ‘em hard and he sends ‘em deep (that’s what she—er, Visanthe Shiancoe, said.)

The Vikings don’t need the Mighty Mississippian out there launching missiles, though. They need him wielding a scalpel.

The obvious reason is that Minnesota doesn’t need the turnovers that Favre’s aerial ambitions generate. There’s merit to that idea—but not as much as you think.

Nearly half of Favre’s league-leading 22 interceptions last year came on throws of 20 yards or longer. He attempted 57 passes in that range, and tossed up 10 picks to show for it.

That’s one turnover for every five-and-a-half deep attempts. Bad odds? Sure, but no worse than Gus Frerotte, who posted a nearly identical interception rate on long throws in his 11 starts, or Sage Rosenfels, who gave the ball away on one in six tries of 20 yards or more.

In other words, Favre throwing deep is a risk, but isn't really a downgrade.

(Tarvaris Jackson fans, now’s your chance to complain about leaving him out of the mix. Just remember what happens when you ask him to carry the load.)

The real reason Favre is best served sticking to the short stuff has as much to do with accentuating his positives as it does with eliminating his negatives. Simply put, he’s deadly from close range.

Even in a down year, Favre completed nearly 76 percent of his passes within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage last year. Those sound like “gimmes,” but they also make up around the vast majority of a quarterback’s throws—typically, around 70 percent.
Frerotte and Jackson connected on just 67 percent of short throws last year. If Favre had the same number of attempts they did, he would have completed about 27 more passes on short attempts alone.

Under the same conditions, he would have completed 15 more throws than Rosenfels, who made good on about 71 percent of his passes of 10 yards or shorter.

But Favre isn’t merely an upgrade over Minnesota’s lackluster collection of passers. When it comes to picking defenses apart underneath, he’s an artiste of the highest order. There isn’t a starting quarterback in the league—not Philip Rivers, not Peyton Manning, not even the oh-so-meticulous Chad Pennington—who was more efficient in short-yardage passing last season.

Any strong-armed quarterback can launch a rocket toward the end zone and hope for the best—heck, T-Jack could play that role just fine. It takes talent to play a dink-and-dunk game that controls the ball and moves the chains. Favre still has plenty to offer in that department.

So if Favre the gunslinger lands a few deep shots against the Chiefs tonight, cheer all you like—it’s a rush, after all, and a nifty highlight.

But save some applause for Favre the surgeon, too. When he starts slicing away, he’s got the tools to bleed the other guys dry.


For more on the Vikings, follow Marino on Twitter @MarinoEccher.