Favre's return frees Vikes from Childress' conservative approach


I am willing to make a confession realizing my actions are not something to brag about. However, much like passing the supermarket tabloids with the intent of not reading, or at least not looking at the pictures, I often grab one. Yes, I am guilty.

I felt all along Brett Favre was coming back -- never reacting to the text message fiasco, any visit to Hattiesburg, Miss. by any member of the Vikings or even about his ankle. It was not about more money, but his sincere love of the game. So while the news of his return was really no news at all, at least for me, yes, I did watch the show Wednesday. Sometimes I cannot help myself.

Much like Favre drew me in, he has done the same with his teammates.

I am certain Favre's return for many of his teammates is symbolic of the freedom attached to his play. They embrace him because he brings a shot at a Super Bowl, but the most enduring quality is what he allows their offense to do, which is to remove coach Brad Childress' involvement.

Without Favre, the Vikings get Childress managing the offense. Childress can be a little too conservative in his approach when game planning, especially when calling the game. Since 2006, when Childress became coach, the offense never ranked higher than 18th in passing yards. That is, until Favre joined the team and the Vikings finished eighth last season.

In the past, the offense was a basic West-Coast style -- much to the chagrin of some former Vikings quarterbacks -- because Childress never trusted anyone enough to open things up, or expand the creative juices. With Favre, Childress has no choice but to be more aggressive and allow the veteran QB the latitude and the freedom within the framework of the offense, or else Favre will walk away, and the team will follow.

Watching the Vikings' first preseason game against the Rams was a clear example of how desperately they need Favre. Forget the score (a 28-7 victory), the preseason must be evaluated on how teams look, not if they win. Remember, the 2008 Lions went 0-16, but were undefeated in the preseason.

The Vikings need Favre for the simple throws -- much like the ones Tarvaris Jackson did not make on the opening drive against the Rams. Unfortunately for Jackson, he is in a no-win situation because every throw he misses everyone -- and I mean everyone -- mumbles under their breath Favre would have made that an easy completion. There is no avoiding it, once the Vikings went to Favre last year and he played as well as he did, Jackson cannot be the quarterback of this team again.

The Vikings also need Favre for the tough throws and his ability to come from behind and lead them to wins. More importantly, the coaches and players trust him -- completely.

The offense with Favre is different than the Jackson version. The philosophy changes, as does the style and the numbers support it. With Jackson in charge of the offense in 2008, the Vikings ran the ball 53 percent of the time in the first half. With Favre in charge, the Vikings threw the ball 56.7 percent of the time in the first half. So much for that theory you have to establish the run.

No matter what Childress might say about the offense, no matter who is under center, the Vikings have faith in Favre.

Due to this trust, the players know they must be able to throw the ball effectively for the Vikings to win a Super Bowl. They know Adrian Peterson is a great player, but no running back can carry them to a title. Most of all, the team knows the offense is not creative or attacking enough with anyone other than Favre under center.

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I love that Favre is back, I really do because he is good for the game. Granted, I hate all the drama, all the uncertainty and suspense his return brings, but I have learned to separate Favre the decision-maker from Favre the player.

His inability to stay retired does not bother me at all, as I know guys like Favre won't stop playing until their bodies won't let them. In fact, Jerry Rice said he still thinks he can play during his Hall of Fame interviews, some five years after he retired. With all great ones, the desire to play never goes away.

It is okay to be mad at Favre the decision-maker, but never be mad at him as a player.

QB decision in Pittsburgh

I love watching preseason games, partly because it is like putting together a puzzle. What pieces fit in which places can indicate what element of a team can function effectively. Winning the game is not as important as playing well in certain areas.

The Steelers have to manage the first six games (maybe only the first four) without Ben Roethlisberger as he serves his suspension. Right now, Byron Leftwich is the starter, but based on his play last week, it would be hard for me to feel he can hold down the job. Not because he does not have the talent, but he is not the right piece in the Steelers' offensive puzzle.

Pittsburgh lacks talent on the offensive line, so the inability to pass protect becomes magnified when Leftwich is in the game. Whether you are talking about his release or moving in the pocket, Leftwich does nothing fast. So he does not have the ability to escape any rusher or buy a second look. I am sure he looks good in practice when the speed of the game is not as dramatic. As things speed up, having Leftwich in the game only highlights the Steelers' problems. He does not solve any of their issues.

I learned a long time ago, when your middle linebacker is slow, your defense appears slow. And when your quarterback is slow, so is your offense. The Steelers are too slow with Leftwich.

The Steelers really do not have a tough decision at quarterback -- they have to play Dennis Dixon. He gives them more speed, movement at the position and forces the opposing defensive coordinator to prepare differently. I can almost assure you that the defensive staff in Atlanta (Pittsburgh's first regular-season opponent) is preparing for Dixon and hoping for Leftwich, because the Falcons can freely attack the pocket when Leftwich is under center and cannot with Dixon.

Sometimes tough decisions are easier than one might expect and that's the case here. Dixon is the best piece to the puzzle for the Steelers.

» Follow me on Twitter @michaelombardi.



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