|With Brett Favre and Adrian Peterson in his backfield, Vikings coach Brad Childress has multiple weapons to use.|
When Brett Favre signed with the New York Jets last year, it took him a good two months before he felt comfortable in his new team's offensive system. This time around with Minnnesota, it shouldn't take nearly as long.
Favre knows the Vikings' offensive terminology inside out and that certainly wasn't the case with the Jets last year when he arrived in New York on Aug. 6. A quarterback needs to see the play in his mind's eye when he calls it in the huddle; early in Favre's Jets season, plays were just words and he often dropped back trying to figure out where people were going.
When he enters the huddle in Minnesota and calls a play in the traditional West Coast language he has used in the previous 17 NFL seasons, he will see the play in his mind's eye. He will know exactly what every player has to do to make it a success, and his decision-making will lead to a quick release of the ball and far fewer sacks than the Vikings quarterbacks incurred last year (43). And fewer than Favre had in New York (30).
Some people wonder how Favre's presence will affect Adrian Peterson and the running game. Keep in mind that Thomas Jones led the AFC in rushing last year when Favre was the quarterback and had three more rushing touchdowns than Peterson in 73 fewer carries.
Peterson is still going to have big numbers on the ground, but instead of the 363 carries he had a year ago, we could easily see 30 of those carries converted into 30 more receptions, because Favre is one of the best ever when it comes to throwing the screen pass.
Defenses are lining up to stop Peterson first and foremost, but the presence of Favre and his ability to check in and out of plays will force the defense to play more honest and not overload the run. Backup running back Chester Taylor will see his production go up in the passing game as well, even though he caught more than double the balls Peterson caught last year. I could envision situations where both Peterson and Taylor are on the field at the same time with Peterson running the ball or play-action pass screens to either player.
One player who should see immediate gains in production is tight end Visante Shiancoe, who was third among tight ends in the league last year with seven touchdown receptions. Favre has always loved throwing to the tight end in the red zone. Strong safeties will have the pressure of moving up into the run box to support the run defense with the threat of Shiancoe running right by them and into the end zone.
The Percy Harvin factor might be the most intriguing concept in the 2009 Vikings offense with Favre under center. Coach Brad Childress will develop a passing attack around his first-round pick that will be a combination of things he did with Brian Westbrook in Philadelphia, what the Saints do with Reggie Bush, and what the Panthers get done with Steve Smith.
Look for situations in which Harvin comes out of the backfield on choice routes against linebackers in zone coverages (Westbrook still makes a living executing this play). The threat of the reverse to Harvin off the handoff to Peterson will hold all the backside pursuit of Peterson, and when Favre sees the defense collapse on Peterson, the reverse to Harvin is out the gate.
Setting Harvin outside like a wide receiver with Favre reading single coverage will probably mean he checks to a smoke screen like the Panthers do with Smith. The quick pass makes it impossible to get to a quarterback with a fast release.
The Vikings offense will not be called "vanilla" again with the conflict Harvin will present.
As for the vertical passing game, don't underestimate Favre's ability to throw deep. His arm isn't what it once was and Bernard Berrian may not average 20.1 yards a catch like he did last year, but the threat of Berrian will loosen up the corners and Favre will hit slants to Berrian and an occasional deep ball. Sidney Rice is an emerging receiver that Favre will look at the same way he looked at Jerricho Cotchery in New York. A 40-reception season at 11-12 yards per catch is not out of the question.
The guy on the outside looking in at the new Vikings offense may be Bobby Wade, who led the team with 53 receptions in 2008. The increase in plays to Rice and Harvin will come from the plays Wade got and not from Peterson.
A coach said to me recently, "There's only one football and we need to always remember who needs it most." In the case of the Vikings, that means Peterson. The difference with Favre on the field is that he threatens the defense with all of his other weapons.
Favre is getting a chance to experience what John Elway had when his Broncos won two Super Bowls with Terrell Davis in the backfield. In 1998, Elway only played in 12 games and threw just 356 passes (166 fewer than Favre last year), but he got 2,008 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns from Davis and still managed to throw 22 touchdown passes while being sacked only 18 times. Childress will have the ability to spice up this offense in many ways and has done them all in the past with the Eagles. But he's also smart enough to know that winning doesn't have to look fancy. "Vanilla" works, if he cares to go in that direction.
What Denver had in 1997-98 was a fresh Elway down the stretch and all the way to two Super Bowls. The Vikings got to the playoffs last year without Favre, but couldn't do a thing once there. Now they will have Favre.
If he gets to the postseason the way Elway did in 1998, watch out.