How important is it for QB Brett Favre to throw to the tight end? It would seem very important for him to involve the Packers' tight ends in the passing game, especially in the red zone, but it isn't as important as you might think. There does not seem to be a relationship between TD passes thrown to the tight end and Favre's success over the course of an entire season.
Football Outsiders had a good post this week discussing the goal line pass to the tight end. The two plays described by Mike Tanier, the goal line rollout option and the gonzo corner, are both plays Favre has ran often in his career. Tanier might not be describing the exact same play from either Mike Holmgren or Mike Sherman's playbook, but Favre has usually thrown to the tight end at the back of the end zone, near the goal posts, and after some play action or a short rollout. What Mike McCarthy's preferred play call for the tight end is somewhat of a mystery because only two TD passes were thrown to tight ends in 2006, both to ex-Packer TE David Martin.
Favre has never used the tight end as a significant weapon to gain yardage. TE Mark Chmura only caught over 500 yards in two of his seven seasons. Since 2001, the leading tight end in receiving yards usually is the fifth leading receiver, far behind the top three WRs and slightly behind one of the running backs. Only in 2002 was TE Bubba Franks the team's 3rd leading receiver and he set his career high with 442 yards receiving.
Using the QB rating provided by David Berri in his book, Wages of Wins, and from his web site, Favre has finished in the top 5 in QB rating four times since 1995 (1995, 1996, 1997, and 2001) and has thrown an average of nine TD passes to his tight ends during those four seasons. However, he has average seven TD passes per season since 1995 to his tight ends, so there isn't a big jump in Favre's performance when the tight end is catching more red zone TD passes.
Since 2001, Favre has thrown fewer TD passes (10,9,7,7,6,2) to his tight ends each season. If TD passes to the tight end was directly related to Favre's QB rating, then it to would have declined steadily each of the last six seasons, but instead the QB rating has been up and down (4,12,6,10,31,17). Although he only rated as the 10th best QB in 2004, it was a golden season for QBs across the NFL, and David Berri argued in his book that by one metric, it was the best season of Favre's career. However, he only threw seven TD passes to his tight ends in 2004, which was average for him, so the tight end was not the key to his success.
Since TD passes to his tight ends is not required for Favre to have a successful season, it will not be the critical factor for the pass offense's success in 2007. A quick glance over the team's stats since 1995 didn't show any consistent trend, such as a running back with a high yards/carry or a dominant wide receiver (or two), other than a high yards/reception (over 7) and a low interception total (no more than 17). While it might be easy to say throw longer completions while lowering your number of interceptions, it is not easily done. David Berri called it consistent inconsistency; the only thing consistent about NFL quarterbacks is their inconsistency.