Brett Favre has some amazing records. His most impressive record is his ironman consecutive games started streak. Unfortunately the NFL doesn’t have statistics to measure the success of a quarterback without elite wide receivers, but if they did, Favre would be in a league by himself—until this year.
Sterling Sharpe, Robert Brooks, Antonio Freeman, Donald Driver, Javon Walker, Greg Jennings … all successful wide receivers. Out of the six, only Sharpe could be categorized as an elite wide receiver and he was forced out of the league by a neck injury in 1994 just as Favre was starting to understand the game.
The others were good, but wouldn't be considered elite, especially without Favre. All have benefited from being excellent route and open field runners in a predictable West Coast offensive system. Nothing wrong with that, and with the Packers, Favre did a nice job of executing this style of play calling, even if it didn't meet his strengths as a quarterback.
But unlike Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, Favre never had a Randy Moss, Marvin Harrison, or Reggie Wayne. Maybe this is why Favre was adamant about the Packers signing Randy Moss when he was available as a free agent.
Favre has never been the most accurate passer, but he has been the one NFL quarterback that could throw the ball in the close vicinity of his wide receivers anywhere on the field.
This was due to his exceptional arm strength and his ability to throw the ball without leading his left foot. Favre’s sandlot quarterback style combined with his pocket awareness relies heavily on wide receivers to “win the battle” for any ball thrown in their direction—even if they are surrounded by three defenders.
And why shouldn’t he expect wide receivers to win? Most of them have three or more inches on secondary defenders, are considered to be expert pass catchers if they are in the NFL, and are paid millions to do their job—which is catching the ball.
Favre’s is also exceptional at leading his wide receivers. That is, anticipating where they will be and putting the ball ahead of them on the move. Donald Driver is excellent at being led, but was often put in the flanker position during Favre’s time with the Packers, and this called for the wide receiver to run a specific route as the first check down.
Favre’s deceptive ability to avoid the sack often times forced him to place the ball high. This happened more frequently with the Packers and rarely with the Vikings because the Packers never had an offensive line to buy Favre enough time in the pocket.
Favre expected his wide receivers to out-jump the defenders to get the ball if they had any chance. In most cases, the wide receiver does have a chance with Favre throwing the ball. Out of the six wide receivers listed above, only one was able to consistently win “jump balls.” That was Javon Walker and his time in the NFL expired quickly due to injury and attitude.
A lack of elite wide receivers unable to be led by Favre or “win battles” may be the primary reason Favre threw so many interceptions with the Packers, and so few this year.
The Packer system has and still does rely on receivers running crisp routes and catching the ball with their feet on the grass, while hoping for yards after the catch, YAC.
With the Vikings, Favre has two wide receivers in Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin who were elite wide receivers coming out of college. Only Sterling Sharpe can claim that for Favre’s Packer wide receivers.
With a considerable drop-off in quarterback accuracy in the college game, elite wide receivers in the NCAA were proven studs that could beat any cornerback for the ball. Rice and Harvin have the skills to be elite in the NFL and are proving it under Favre.
Rice and Harvin not only use their athleticism to out-jump defenders, but they also motor across the field and will stretch out to catch a pass that leads them.
Favre loves to lead because he knows that a 3-step/5-step “drop and throw” is unrealistic in the NFL. Improvising equals the necessity to lead wide receivers after all check-downs have been shut-down.
Without Favre, Vikings head coach Brad Childress was forced to use his check-downs religiously and good defenders can cover possession wide receivers. Favre’s ability to improvise, throw anywhere on the field, and expectations—if not demands that his receivers win the battle allows Rice and Harvin to reach their potential.
One could also argue that Favre has never had an offensive line like he does with the Vikings, and that also helps. But Favre has always been able to get the ball close to his wide receivers when forced to move in the pocket. It was up to them to do their job and make the catch.
With Rice and Harvin, Favre finally has wide receivers that can do that.