Sunday, August 10, 2008


The question has been asked in every direction. As much as the Olympics – for better or worse – deserve more attention on this space, keeping up with familiar sports and learning some rarely viewed ones is a daunting task that many others have valiantly taken on (some rather well). And so despite what the caption below the new photo asks (and a general reluctance to discuss too much from the New York area), here’s the answer to the Question of the Year of the Moment.

Brett Favre’s arrival to the Meadowlands has given excitement to the New York Jets’ fan base, the metro area media (what a shock) and anyone who has a major financial investment in the franchise. The future Hall of Famer forced himself back into the game and away from the organization that he shared a once-glorious, now-acrimonious relationship. Where the future of the Green Bay Packers in Aaron Rodgers becomes the present, its past moves on to a team that for various reasons has never grabbed the attention of the country’s biggest market.

In the business of cynics and critics, many have asked if Favre knew what he was getting into. Favre actually admitted that much in his introductory press conference last week:
"I haven't faced anything like this. I don't know anyone in this locker room. To a certain degree, I really don't know what I'm getting into."
While he referred mostly to his new teammates, anyone with a sports pulse in this city may have been thinking about the hornet’s nest that this place can be when a player slips up. Considering that no one has ever batted 1.000, had the 158.3 passer rating, shot 100% from the field or scored a goal in every period of a hockey game in a season, Mr. Favre will be booed for an errant pass at some point this year. However, in the face of the doom-and-gloom predictions for Favre himself, he’ll be fine.

If you haven’t heard, he’s pretty deft with dealing with the media and as it has been known for years, he has a few die hard fans in the press box and broadcasting booth. He also knows what it means to be the signal-caller for a high-profile team. Despite playing in a town whose population is almost one-fourth of that of Staten Island (no joke), Green Bay is home to one of the few franchises in American sports that enjoys a national following. So in terms of playing in the NYC metro area, Favre has a unique perspective compared to other major stars that have come here. The bright lights are nothing new to him, even if those who shine them here are far quicker to highlight something wrong than elsewhere.

As for him knowing the playbook and getting to know his new teammates, this is also something that while it will take some time, he will be in sync with them sooner than later. He’s an unknown to some of these players already because they have gone through the trenches with Chad Pennington and Kellen Clemens for a couple of years now. He’s a complete unknown to the team’s biggest free agent acquisitions, offensive linemen Damien Woody and Alan Faneca. Woody split his first seven seasons with New England and Detroit, having protected Tom Brady for four and a rotation of QBs in the Motor City. Faneca left Pittsburgh after ten seasons blocking for Kordell Stewart, Charlie Batch, Tommy Maddox and Ben Roethlisberger, but giving Jerome Bettis, Deuce Staley and Willie Parker major holes to run through. With the emergence of D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold, the improved line will give Favre and running back Thomas Jones the time they need to execute on offense. He’ll develop chemistry with Lavernues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery over the coming weeks. The vastly underrated fullback Tony Richardson has laid down major hits for various runners and gunslingers in his thirteen-year career. Whoever would have been the quarterback of this team before Favre’s arrival would have found success, albeit with shorter passes and trying to win the time of possession battle. With Favre, the team will be able to test secondaries with deep routes, though the counter on his 288 interceptions will keep clicking for sure. Favre will be fine under center for New York. The light may not come on until late September considering how much time he has missed since the unretirement saga began. Offense is not so much of a concern as defense should be.

Team management traded LB Jonathan Vilma to New Orleans and Dewayne Robinson to Denver in order to bring in players the felt would suit their 3-4 scheme (three down linemen, four linebackers) better. Nose tackle Kris Jenkins and linebacker Calvin Pace were signed in return, and with Shaun Ellis and Kerry Rhodes being the team’s best defenders, the Jets hope that they can emulate the New England Patriots with a defense that relies more on confusing the opponent than physically overwhelming them. That said, they may have been the ninth-best defense against the pass, but they were horrendous against the run (29th of all 32 teams). Much of this can be traced to being on the field too long because the Jets’ offense sputtered so much. However, this coming season finds them facing upper-echelon backs (San Diego’s LaDanian Tomlinson, Cincinnati’s Rudi Johnson, St. Louis’ Steven Jackson and San Francisco’s Frank Gore), teams with two very good backs (Miami, Oakland), a New England team that runs when they need to with Laurence Maroney and a Denver team with an offensive line that always leads the way for out-of-nowhere 1,000-yard runners. Teams know that to beat the Jets, they have to put pressure on their offense and constantly run on their defense.

What should also prevent fans from printing Super Bowl t-shirts for these Jets is that in they will have to fight at least four other teams for what could be just one playoff spot. Besides the Jets, there are eleven legitimate playoff contenders (only Oakland, Kansas City, Baltimore and Miami seem to be in complete rebuilding mode). Contrary to popular belief, Favre cannot be the sole reason why the Jets can eclipse last year’s Wild Card team’s (Tennessee and Jacksonville) or teams that just missed the postseason (Cleveland and Buffalo).

You can argue that the Packers were the most complete team in the NFL last season with a great offensive line, solid wide receivers, unexpected fortunes with Ryan Grant as the running back and a talented defense that had the desired mix of speed and power. Favre may have made a drastic turnaround from two seasons of sub-par football (29 picks in 2005 and 18 in 2006) and heard a few calls to hang up the cleats, yet he got within a game of the Super Bowl because of an elite defense and a very timely discovery of a running game.

Those will be the same factors that determine if he’ll get closer to another one or if he’ll break out the hunting rifle back home after the December 28th finale against Miami.

No comments: