Chicago Bears: Reggie Wayne
In checking out how often the Chicago Bears have thrown to receiver Brandon Marshall, I stumbled across league-wide target numbers. The chart displays each NFC North team's top two targets, via ESPN's Stats & Information, and also provides percentages to put those figures in better perspective. (The Green Bay Packers have two players tied for the second-most targets.)
Use that information as you will. It probably doesn't reveal anything that close observers didn't realize. The most interesting point to take, be it from a fantasy or conventional standpoint, is how heavily Marshall is involved relative to his teammates and other receivers around the NFL.
The Bears threw in Marshall's direction on 17 passes last Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, bringing his season total to 121 targets. That's the third-most in the NFL and second in the NFC North behind the Detroit Lions' Calvin Johnson (122). But it's important to note that the Lions (501 attempts) have thrown 173 more passes this season than the Bears (328) this season. As the chart shows, Marshall has been the target of more than a third of the Bears' passes.
For context, consider that the NFL's leader in targets, the Indianapolis Colts' Reggie Wayne, has seen 29.6 percent of his team's passes (133 of 449).
So all told, Marshall has had the NFL's third-most passes thrown his way even though his team has thrown the league's fourth-fewest number of passes. The differential between Marshall and the Bears' next-most targeted receiver, Earl Bennett, is 82 passes. That is by far the biggest discrepancy in the NFL. The next-largest is the gap between Wayne and Donnie Avery, who has been targeted 83 times.
For the most part, I see no problem with the Bears' approach. One of the most popular NFL criticisms is of teams who don't or can't emphasize their playmakers. Marshall is one of the league's best receivers, and the Bears are finding more ways to get him the ball on a percentage basis than any other team is with their top receiver.
It has resulted in 81 receptions, 1,017 yards and eight touchdowns. Those figures rank second, fifth and second in the NFL, respectively, among wide receivers.
You have to assume the Bears will at some point face a situation where defenses take Marshall out of the game, forcing them to rely more heavily on Bennett and others. But that's a secondary criticism at best. Suffice it to say, the Bears are getting their money's worth from Marshall in their first season together.
CHICAGO BEARS (0-0)
Coach: Lovie Smith | Record including playoffs: 71-57 | Last week: No game
Career record vs. Chuck Pagano: 0-0 | Career record vs. Colts: 1-2
Key stat: Chicago’s 11 projected starters have combined for 23 Pro Bowls and played in a combined 962 regular-season games with 773 regular-season starts. In addition, each of the projected starters started in at least nine games last season for the Bears.
Offense rank in 2011: 24th (314.1 ypg) | Defense rank: 17th (350.4 ypg)
Offensive leader: Quarterback Jay Cutler plays his first real game in 294 days when he steps on the field against the Colts. With Cutler at the helm, the Bears have posted a 19-8 record over the last 27 games. Cutler needs five touchdown passes to surpass Jim McMahon to move into third on the club’s all-time passing TDs list and six more to move to No. 2.
Defensive leader: Despite the recent problems he’s experienced with an injured left knee, Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher remains confident he’ll be able to contribute at a high level against the Colts. With a start against the Colts, Urlacher moves into a tie with Keith Van Horne for the fourth-most starts (169) in franchise history.
" A win and a Green Bay Packers loss would give the Bears the most opening-day victories of all time. The Bears and Packers are currently tied with 52 opening-day wins.
" The Bears have won 15 of their last 16 games in which they led after the first quarter.
" The Bears have won 11 of the last 13 games in which they finished on the plus side of the turnover ratio and are 42-9 since 2004 in that scenario.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (0-0)
Coach: Chuck Pagano | Career record: 0-0 | Last week: No game
Career record vs. Smith: 0-0 | Career record vs. Bears: 0-0
Key stat: In the preseason, the Colts finished second in the AFC in passing yards (267.5 yard average) and total offense (343.8) while quarterback Andrew Luck completed 62.1 percent of his passes, and tied for second in the AFC in passing yards and touchdowns (3).
Offense rank in 2011: 30th (286.8 ypg) | Defense rank: 25th (370.9 ypg)
Defensive leader: Linebacker Dwight Freeney is a seven-time Pro Bowler and is Indianapolis’ all-time leader in sacks with 102.5. In 2011, Freeney became just the 26th player to surpass 100 career sacks, and he’s the only Colt to amass seven double-digit sack seasons. In addition, Freeney has put together 25 games in which he’s posted multiple sacks.
" Kicker Adam Vinatieri has scored at least one point in 130 consecutive regular-season games.
" Wayne has led the Colts in receiving for five consecutive seasons.
" Mathis has posted 41.5 sacks in his last 61 regular-season outings.
" Freeney has posted 42.5 sacks in his last 61 regular-season games.