Any discussion about the performance of the New York Jets through the first quarter of the season has to begin and end with QB Brett Favre. The trade that brought the future Hall of Famer to New York this summer immediately heaped a pile of expectations on this team, and while they stumbled a bit out of the gate, their most recent performance, a 56-35 home win over the Cardinals in Week 4, may have given fans a peek through a window to the future. Things are looking up at the quarter pole.
There are really three pieces to what is happening to the Jets right now. The first is that offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has figured out how to best utilize Favre and incorporate his best skills into the game plan. Then the staff has experimented with a lot of different things and has honed in on what works. And that has freed Favre up to play more vertically and create plays down the field.
What Schottenheimer, Eric Mangini, and the rest of the staff are finding out is that Favre, even as he closes in on 40, has not shown any diminishing of his skills. The first word most scouts will utter when speaking of Favre is "gunslinger." The one thing the veteran has always had, and continues to have, is a cannon of an arm. He's certainly in the top five in the league in overall arm strength, and even at this point in his career he can put the ball in a window.
Favre completed 66.5 percent of his passes last year, good for fourth in the NFL. This year he is second in the league, working at a 70.2 percent clip, and is still in the top 10 at 7.5 yards per attempt. So he's not working any sort of dink-and-dunk attack here. As we all saw against Arizona, he's throwing the ball down the field. In general, a 55 percent completion rate is considered good. Though Favre still relies too much on his strong arm and playmaking ability when under pressure, he has learned to play within the system and make the accurate pass.
So the coaches have figured out what the quarterback does well, they have included it in the game plan, and the quarterback has responded in kind with improved performances. Favre is comfortable, and when that happens, you get the best of Favre. When he is at his best, playing with confidence, he makes everyone around him better.
Player after player has talked about how great Favre is in the locker room, always laughing and making jokes. Even at this stage of his career, he is upbeat and enthusiastic, and that optimism is contagious. And Favre has been quick to extend himself to his teammates, not waiting for them to come to him or expecting some sort of reverent welcome. All indications are that he has taken the many young players under his wing and the older veterans have gotten on board.
In a recent interview, TE Dustin Keller talked about how loose Favre is in the huddle and how relaxed he is, even in tight situations. That attitude will help a Jets team that has traditionally waited for the next bad thing to happen. With Favre at the helm, these players will begin to feel as if they can win the tight game or the tough road game. As Keller said, there is a "Who knows what will happen next?" atmosphere around the team now.
A great example of that is T D'Brickashaw Ferguson, who was beginning to hear the "bust" whispers. But with Favre in the pocket, moving his feet, releasing the ball quickly and just being encouraging, Ferguson is playing better. It is always Favre who is patting guys on the butt and telling them it's all right.
Favre makes this group of receivers and tight ends good enough to win as well. We had mentioned in several places back in August that this was going to take time, and four weeks into the season there are signs that Favre, Jerricho Cotchery and Laveranues Coles are on the same page. Both are top 20 in the NFL in receptions and top five in touchdown receptions, and Coles is 17th in yards. This team hasn't seen that sort of production since the days of Keyshawn and Chrebet.
And if you don't believe it already, we'll be the first to tell you: Keller is going to play a big role in this offense as the season progresses. Favre loves to throw to the TEs and Keller has good hands and the speed to test the secondary deep on the seam. You are watching the New York debut of the next Bubba Franks.
But Favre's impact reaches beyond the offense. He is always with the defense; in the locker room, on the practice field, on the sideline during games. These Jets defensive players are playing with more confidence because they know their quarterback is going to score points for them. They know if they get the ball back, the offense has a good chance to make it count. If they have a bad series or a bad half, this team no longer goes into panic mode, because even without a top defensive effort, they know they still have a chance to win.
The Arizona game was a perfect example of that. In the first half, the defense forced five turnovers and the offense scored 13 points off those turnovers (seven came on a Darrelle Revis INT return). In the second half the defense struggled. But as you watched the body language of the coaches and players change on the sideline, there was Favre, telling everyone it was all right, leading three fourth-quarter TD drives and tossing a 40-yard touchdown on fourth-and-1.
As a result, the defense can go out and play more aggressively. That also has something to do with the excellent corner play they've gotten from Revis and rookie Dwight Lowery. The front seven can pressure the QB more, knowing they have the ability to man up and put their corners on an island in coverage. They bring five at the QB more often, which has resulted in more sacks for Bryan Thomas, Calvin Pace and Shaun Ellis.
But again, the equation begins with Favre. The quarterback has already done his part to change the culture. There is a chemical reaction going on here that has removed all limitations on this team for the first time in a long time. The Jets feel like they can win every week. Will they? No. But they will win enough. You have not seen the best of this team yet.