Favre scrambles secondary's thinking

Master improviser's passing clinic leaves unit shaking its head

Packers 31, Ravens 23

October 15, 2001|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

GREEN Bay, Wis. -- It's hard to counteract the unpredictable.

Such was the problem the Ravens' secondary faced with Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre yesterday in a 31-23 loss at Lambeau Field.

Favre's ability to improvise -- making throws downfield while scrambling in the pocket -- helped him pass for 337 yards, three touchdowns and a nearly perfect 137.4 quarterback rating.

Those are incredible numbers against a secondary that had not allowed a quarterback to pass for 200 yards in any of the Ravens' four previous games.

"Our defense is not predicated on what they do; it's on what we do," safety Corey Harris said. "If everybody does his job, every defense is designed to stop every play.

"When the play breaks down, it becomes a little bit of backyard football. That's something that Brett excels in. Several times he was looking to throw the ball, [but] his man wasn't open. Then there is another part to this game that he excels in, and that's making plays after the designed play isn't there. And that's something that you can't really practice on defense."

The Packers realized they would win or lose on Favre's arm, often lining him up in the shotgun (36 times in fact), wishing him good luck and letting him have at it. Favre threw 34 passes, completing 27, with no interceptions, numbers that may represent the best explanation of the Packers' success.

Favre threw three interceptions last week in a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Ravens were able to force just one turnover.

"We had an excellent game plan," Packers coach Mike Sherman said. "We were in a lot of shotgun and a lot of new types of runs out of the shotgun that we haven't employed very much lately, and it put him [Favre] in a very comfortable position to see the field at different times. ... We probably used more shotgun than we have in the past."

That allowed Favre to see exactly where the pressure was coming from. If the defensive line broke through on him, he scrambled around in the pocket. A perfect illustration: his second-quarter, 8-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Freeman in which he scrambled to his right until Freeman pushed off Duane Starks to get open.

"Every time I looked up, [Favre] was scrambling, getting out of there," safety Rod Woodson said. "And when he gets out of there, he can throw that football."

And make completions most other quarterbacks can't, even into decent coverage. There were many plays, though, when the Ravens' cornerbacks struggled against the Packers' receivers.

After the Ravens allowed just one catch to a receiver in last week's win over Tennessee, they gave up a total of 17 to Freeman, Bill Schroeder, Donald Driver and Corey Bradford, many of them against cornerbacks Starks and Chris McAlister.

Driver caught a 28-yard pass over Starks in the second quarter that led to a missed field-goal try and Bradford a 47-yarder on a fade route against McAlister the next series that led to a touchdown seven seconds before halftime that put the Packers up 17-7.

"He was putting the ball where it needed to be," said McAlister, who also allowed a 37-yard pass to Driver in the third quarter on virtually the same route. "He's a great quarterback, and he proved it today.

"They executed their offensive plan, and I didn't do what I needed to do to stop it. That's the bottom line. I've been through a lot of tough games, especially my rookie year. This ranks up there with one of the most difficult games that I've had."

Both cornerbacks were also hit with pass-interference calls. McAlister's came on a pass intended for Schroeder, a 27-yard infraction that led to a 33-yard field goal that put the Packers up for good, 10-7, in the second quarter.

Starks' call came in the end zone on a pass intended for Freeman from 9 yards out in the third quarter. Starks did not like the call, which set up a back-breaking 1-yard run by Ahman Green for a touchdown on the next play that put the Packers up by 14.

"I understand that it's a bias thing," Starks said. "Anything that we do against the receivers it's pass interference; anything they do against us, it's OK. [Freeman] pushed me down, tripped me up on [his] touchdown. He tried to do it again, and then they call pass interference.

"But we made a lot of mistakes today, a lot of mistakes that can be corrected. They got the ball to the receivers that were open. [The] receivers were making beautiful catches. Anytime you got an offense that's doing a great job like that, it was in their favor to win the game."

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