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Sunday, October 11, 2009
Leaps and bounds for Favre

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Brett Favre and the Vikings' offense have been more aggressive in the passing game the past three weeks.

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


ST. LOUIS -- Brett Favre is hearing it from everyone at all times. Percy Harvin was in his ear Sunday morning, suggesting he could get open on a deep seam route. Sidney Rice hit him up early in Minnesota’s game in St. Louis, insisting he could make a play against cornerback Bradley Fletcher. Even Adrian Peterson casually hinted he would be open on a backside checkdown.
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Take note, especially those of you who are as fascinated as I am by Minnesota’s real-time chemistry building: We saw distinctive signs of progress in Sunday’s 38-10 victory over the Rams. Favre trusted Harvin on an early seam route that shouldn’t have been open, just missing a huge completion. He hit Rice for a 47-yard gain just three weeks after the pair miscommunicated on the same throw.

In fact, if you saw Favre cautiously complete 23 passes for 155 yards Sept. 19 at Detroit, you would agree the Vikings are growing into a more dangerous downfield passing team by the week.

Sunday, Favre completed 18 of 24 passes for 232 yards. Along with the deep strike to Rice, he also connected with Harvin for 24, 22 and 19 yards. Whereas Favre initially appeared to be winging it through the Vikings’ offense, checking down to the first open receiver he saw, he now seems to have built a detailed rapport with most of his receivers, especially Rice and Harvin. From what I can tell, the relationship is due in no small part to the aggressive but respectful urges from two of the Vikings’ youngest players. (Harvin is 21, while Rice just turned 23.)

“I had great chemistry with Donald [Driver] and when Greg [Jennings] started emerging as a great player,” Favre said of two of his former Packers teammates. “I can go on with all the guys I played with. But what’s impressive about these guys is that right away, they were in my ear, telling me what they’re seeing, telling me what they think they can do. I don’t want to say that’s a first, but it’s what we need. We have to have success right now. It’s not like we can say, ‘We’ll work on that for three weeks.’ ”

If you want to know how something as nebulous as chemistry can develop without offseason workouts or training camp, well, this is how it happens. After a few series Sunday, Rice felt strongly that he could beat Fletcher and told Favre as much. Rice doesn’t have breakaway speed, so in essence he was asking Favre for the ball even though he would likely be covered.

Favre heeded the suggestion on the Vikings’ fifth play of the second half, launching a back-shoulder pass down the right sideline. Rice slowed up as Fletcher ran past him and made the catch.

“We had talked about that,” Rice said. “It’s just all about communication. That’s our main focus with the quarterbacks. … We’re trying to stay in Brett’s ear. We let him know what we’re seeing and what we think we can do. And he always lets us know when he sees things like that. It’s nice to have that.”
Scott Rovak/US Presswire
Minnesota's Percy Harvin nearly makes a catch on a seam pass from Brett Favre.

You might recall that three weeks ago in Detroit, Favre targeted Rice on a similar route but threw the ball several yards past and a couple yards inside where Rice ended up. As we discussed at the time, it wasn’t an inaccurate pass as much as it was an incomplete knowledge of Rice’s skills and preferences. Favre’s improved pass Sunday represents the extent of the progress he’s made. In fact, Favre said, he wouldn’t have made that throw three weeks ago.

“Absolutely,” he said. “It’s a great play on his part, but it’s a trust thing on my part to lay it up to him.”

Even Peterson has gotten into the flow of that conversation and said it has been “very important” to players that Favre has listened, and when appropriate, followed their suggestions.

“This was only his fifth game with us,” Peterson said. “There are certain things that he and I see, and we’ll say, ‘Let’s play with this.’ I’ll say, ‘You go through your checks and everything else, but we might be open on the back side or it might open up this or that.' ”

This is nothing revolutionary in terms of NFL offenses. But I can’t emphasize how rare it is for these conversations to occur for the first time during the regular season. More typically, players work through those issues during the offseason and in training camp.

I think we can now say that Favre and the Vikings are successfully navigating a nearly unprecedented dynamic. As long as you view 5-0 as successful.

Coach Brad Childress reiterated Sunday that chemistry between Favre and his receivers remains “a work in progress,” but I think most observers would agree we’ve seen a scary acceleration in the past few weeks.

When you look at it from a statistical standpoint, yards per attempt might be the most accurate, widespread representation of downfield passing. After that Week 2 game in Detroit, Favre was averaging 5.52 yards per attempt.

Over the past three games, he’s averaged 7.96 yards per attempt. Childress acknowledged that he’s seen Favre getting “incrementally better and more comfortable,” but frankly that seems like an understatement.

Favre described the state of the Vikings' passing offense this way: “Being able to take shots when shots are there.” He noted they won’t be throwing 50 times a game “or cooking up some grand scheme to [trick] people.”

But he also made clear that the continuation of his budding relationship with Rice, Harvin and the rest of the Vikings’ receivers will spell the difference between a good season and a great one.

“Physically and from a talent level,” Favre said, “this is the best team I’ve ever been on. I’ve said this from Day 1. … To me, how our chemistry continues to come together is the most important thing. That goes from play calling to who runs this route better and what play-action comes from one play to the next. Just kind of getting into what you hear [called] ‘The Zone,’ if you will.”

Over his past three games, Favre has completed 66 of 101 passes for 804 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions, good for a 101.3 passer rating.

If that’s a stop on the way to ‘The Zone,’ I for one will be interested to see what’s it’s like if Favre and the Vikings actually get there.