Cutler-Marshall: 'Once in a lifetime'

March, 20, 2012
3/20/12
2:00
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Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall AP Photo/David ZalubowskiBrandon Marshall, left, and Jay Cutler, now reunited in Chicago, were regularly on the same page during their time together in Denver.
Having already been suspended for insubordination, Brandon Marshall figured he had nothing to lose. So after agreeing to a national television interview during his tumultuous 2009 season with the Denver Broncos, Marshall placed a large photograph of himself and quarterback Jay Cutler on his living room wall -- in clear view of the cameras.

Was there any better way to symbolize his displeasure with the Broncos -- and tell the world he wanted out of Denver -- than a reminder of the trade that sent Cutler to the Chicago Bears a few months earlier? "I was like, 'hey, let's make a statement,'" Marshall told ESPN 1000 earlier this year.

Most of our coverage on the Bears' acquisition of Marshall has focused on his previously boorish behavior and a recent incident outside a New York City nightclub. That's too bad, because it pushed to the background two stunning years Marshall and Cutler had with the Broncos, and it has overshadowed what, by all accounts, is the kind of football relationship that most teams only dream of assembling.

So consider this post our own blatant and staged attempt to shift the focus to football, if only for a moment while we await further news on Marshall's role in the nightclub fracas.

In 31 games together with the Broncos from 2007-08, Cutler and Marshall combined for 206 receptions, 2,590 yards and 13 touchdowns. They were so locked in that by 2008, Cutler targeted Marshall on 179 passes in 15 games. That's the highest number over the past four years in the NFL, as the first chart shows.

But to hear Cutler and Marshall tell it, their wild production was not just the product of a strong-armed quarterback and a prototypical big receiver.

"His physical abilities are second to his mental side of the game," Cutler told EPSN 1000 in January. "I've never been with a receiver that understands the game, understands why we're doing certain things [like Marshall]."

Despite their limited time together, Cutler has thrown more touchdown passes to Marshall (14) than any teammate in his career. The same is true for Marshall. Although the Bears' offense differs schematically from the Broncos', new offensive coordinator Mike Tice has traditionally allowed quarterbacks and receivers flexibility to freelance when prudent.

More than anything, that's where Cutler and Marshall figure to make their hay in 2012 and beyond -- with unspoken adjustments and collective instincts.

"It's hard to find that and sometimes it's once in a lifetime," Marshall said. "... When you take two guys and put them on the field together and they have that chemistry, that's what's almost impossible to find. I can't explain it."

Describing their past time together in the present tense, Marshall said, "We will line up there and we'll get a coverage and he will just look at me and I'll know exactly where he wants to adjust my route on. You don't find that.

"It got to a point where coaches, they didn't know what we were doing so we'll install a whole play and they'll give us a play on the front side and put me on the back side and they'll tell us just do what you all do and just make it work. We had a lot of freedom in our offense, and we made it work and the chemistry was great. It was something special."

It's a little early to project another 100-connection season between Cutler and Marshall, but I think it's safe to say they are capable of production levels unseen in Chicago in a decade or more. (At least by a Bears team.)

The Bears' streak of nine consecutive seasons without a 1,000-yard receiver is the longest in the NFL. Their last statistical season of note came from Marty Booker, who caught 97 passes for 1,189 yards in 2002.

Marshall has caught at least 81 passes in all five of his full-time seasons. In their history dating to 1932, the Bears have had six receivers catch 80 passes in a season.

Even in today's unprecedented era of passing, it takes a lot for a quarterback/receiver duo to rack up a huge season. Health, complementary players and pass protection are all important factors.

But the chemistry that Cutler and Marshall claim to have -- and is borne out by the statistics -- is the rarest of commodities. We have a chance to watch something special from two presumably matured personalities still in their physical primes. When it's over, maybe the photograph above the fireplace will be more than just a prop.

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