Minnesota Vikings: Favre missing his security blanket in Sidney Rice
MINNEAPOLIS -- The on-the-field chemistry that developed between Brett Favre and Sidney Rice last year started as a work in progress. Rice caught only two passes for 17 yards in a season-opening victory at Cleveland, and after three games the Fav...
MINNEAPOLIS -- The on-the-field chemistry that developed between Brett Favre and Sidney Rice last year started as a work in progress.
Rice caught only two passes for 17 yards in a season-opening victory at Cleveland, and after three games the Favre-Rice combination had connected nine times for 102 yards and a touchdown.
Those were respectable numbers but gave little indication of what was to come. In the Vikings' 30-23 victory over Green Bay in Week 4 at Mall of America Field at the Metrodome, Rice caught five passes for 70 yards and a score. He had 19 receptions for 373 yards in the next three games en route to a Pro Bowl season in which he led the Vikings with 83 receptions for 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns.
Rice became Favre's security blanket among the wide receivers.
When in doubt Favre would look for the 6-4, 202-pound Rice and trust that, covered or not, he would make the play if the ball was thrown in his vicinity. "A lot of plays with Sidney, it wasn't like we schemed up this perfect designed play to get him the ball," Favre said Wednesday. "Big plays that he caught he was never really wide open."
But that security blanket is now missing -- Rice is expected to miss at least half the season after having hip surgery last month -- and it didn't take long to see just how much Favre missed his favorite target.
Favre was far from sharp in the Vikings' 14-9 season-opening loss at New Orleans last Thursday, but he also didn't look like a quarterback who necessarily had a favorite wide receiver on the field. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe was the target of a game-high seven passes and caught four of them. Among the wide receivers, Percy Harvin had five balls thrown his way and caught one. Bernard Berrian (targeted three times), Greg Camarillo (two) and Greg Lewis (two) each caught one pass apiece.
"It's going to be a work in progress all year," Favre said after the Vikings began preparing for Sunday's home opener against Miami. "As I sat here last year at this time, who would have thought we would have had the success we had in the passing game? Sidney is not here. Someone has to pick up the slack, which will be hard to do."
With the Vikings carrying only four wide receivers, the most logical candidates to emerge are Harvin and Berrian. Harvin proved to be Favre's second favorite receiver in 2009, catching 60 passes for 790 yards and six touchdowns. Berrian had 55 receptions for 618 yards and four touchdowns, but his big-play ability was severely curtailed by injuries to both hamstrings.
Berrian, who signed a six-year, $42 million free-agent deal ($16 million signing bonus) with the Vikings in March 2008, got off to a disappointing start against the Saints on Thursday as his only reception went for 3 yards. He also dropped a pass.
The Saints played a lot of Cover-2 zone in order to limit Berrian deep, but Favre knows the former Chicago Bear must become a bigger part of the passing attack.
"He is a proven veteran and seems to be perfectly healthy," Favre said. "There were probably some opportunities that I should have gotten the ball to Bernard. Just poor reads on my part."
Said Berrian: "Obviously it's never always going to be the quarterback's fault. There's a lot more that goes into being a quarterback. The quarterback just always usually takes the blame for everyone."
While assigning blame for what went wrong in New Orleans is interesting, as far as the Vikings are concerned it's not productive. What the Vikings need to do is make sure that Favre has a better day Sunday than he did in completing 15 of 27 passes for 171 yards for an offense that scored only nine points against the Saints.
Coach Brad Childress reiterated Wednesday that his offense is "not where I'm looking for it to be right now," adding, "I think it's still going to be a process."
Part of the issue is that no receiver on the roster is taller than 6-2, meaning Favre doesn't necessarily have that big target to whom he can throw a jump ball and know it likely will come down in that player's possession. That's why it's a little surprising the Vikings decided to jettison Javon Walker (6-3) after giving him a brief audition in the preseason.
"Have we replaced (Rice) yet? Will we replace him? Time will tell," Favre said. "It's hard to replace a guy like that. The way he plays the game. . . . But I like our guys. I said that after the game against the Saints. I do. But there's no doubt we have to get on the same page and we have to do it in a hurry."