Commentary

Growing pains

Bears' new offensive system flashing potential, but frustration persists

Updated: October 6, 2013, 8:25 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- A normally dapper Brandon Marshall showed up to the postgame news conference in grey sweatpants with a "U.S. Marshall" logo.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Marshall
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhBrandon Marshall didn't want to let his body language on the sideline reflect his frustration with the offense.
While he's searching for his role in the Chicago Bears' still-developing offense, the Bears receiver might want to call up a Marshall to start a hard-target search of every playbook, scrapbook and cookbook to look for his fugitive catches.

After making just four catches for 30 yards, including a late 2-yard score, in a 26-18 loss to New Orleans on Sunday, Marshall tried hard to put on a positive face as he struggled to assert himself, in a manner he's accustomed to, on the field.

You get the feeling he's just a game away from penning a sequel to Keyshawn Johnson's old book.

Can someone get Marshall the damn ball 12 times a game, or what?

After catching 15 passes for 217 yards and two scores in the Bears' first two games, Marshall has caught 16 passes for 161 yards and one score in the past three.

Marshall has been admittedly bothered by the lesser production and, as he said, mostly by the two losses.

"The frustration comes from when we're not winning and the offense isn't moving the ball," Marshall said. "It has nothing to do with me. I want to win."

He's not alone. Marshall represents the offense's immense potential and its failure to realize it.

This was the Bears' second loss in a row following a 3-0 start, and it wasn't as close as the score indicates. The good vibes of the first three weeks have been replaced with the stark realization that this offense is still finding its rhythm under head coach Marc Trestman. The Bears' defense finally failed to get a takeaway, making it harder for the offense to gain an edge.

The Bears did a poor job recognizing blitzes and several players seemed to lose focus when presented with the football, from fumbles to dropped passes.

"I think it's all about us, quite frankly," Trestman said. "And it usually is."

Marshall said his frustrations have boiled over into his production, something he's trying hard to control. Cutler has bounced back from early struggles, but that's faint praise considering he has had to dig himself out of holes he created.

The good news is that this isn't last year. You can see the promise. It's just early. The Bears' fast start disguised the growing pains.

"It's a new offense," Marshall said. "It's going to take some time for us to really put that thing together. We want to look like the New Orleans Saints' offense. You can see, man, those guys there. They're machines out there, man. So it's going to take some time to get there."

While the Saints have Drew Brees operating in the same system every year, Cutler is adjusting to another new offense. He was pretty good Sunday, at least after the first quarter.

Cutler lost for the second time in 27 career starts with a passer rating of more than 100. He was 24-for-33 for 358 yards and two touchdowns.

Cutler got victimized early thanks to some well-timed Saints blitz calls from new coordinator Rob Ryan.

In the first half, he was sacked three times, by a linebacker and two defensive backs. Cutler fumbled away a ball in Saints territory that led to a Saints field goal.

"It was nothing that we haven't seen or practiced against that happened today," Cutler said. "There were just some miscommunications out there. Three plays in this game are significant and it hurts."

Chicago ran 18 plays in the first five drives, with a net yardage gain of 41.

A Cutler pitch to Forte was fumbled on the first play of the game, making it second-and-20 en route to a three-and-out.

Cutler was sacked by Malcolm Jenkins on a blind-side blitz to start the Bears' second possession.

Cutler got sacked on second and long in each of the Bears' next two drives, resulting in punts.

Thanks to some stout defense, the Bears trailed only6-0 after the first nine minutes. But that deficit ballooned to 20-7 at the half, as Matt Forte didn't get many touches.

The Bears looked to get Marshall involved early, but Cutler couldn't connect. The Saints were doubling and bracketing Marshall for most the game, which led to a big day between Cutler and Alshon Jeffery.

The second-year receiver had a franchise-record 218 receiving yards, including a first-half touchdown.

"Alshon Jeffery, man, he's coming," Marshall said. "He's probably going to shatter all the Bears' [receiving] records after he's done."

But it was still Marshall who went to the podium to address reporters as he struggled between expressing his true feelings and being the requisite "good soldier."

[+] EnlargeAlshon Jeffery
David Banks/Getty ImagesAlshon Jeffery set a franchise record with 218 receiving yards, which Jay Cutler believes will make teams think twice about always doubling Marshall.
"It's tough," he said. "It's really tough. I'm not even going to lie to you. Today, like I said last week after the game, my No. 1 goal going into the work week was to work on my body language when I'm not in the game."

Cutler didn't seem concerned. Or maybe he's tired of being asked about Marshall's mental state every time he doesn't get 12 catches.

"They weren't going to let him have a good day," Cutler said. "They were doubling him in the slot; in the red zone, they were doubling him over the top. They decided, 'Hey, it's not going to happen.'

"It's going to come," Cutler said. "You can't keep doubling him and letting another receiver go for 200 yards. It's silly to keep doing that. He's going to get his. He's going to have to keep trusting us."

For his part, Trestman said, "I've got to do a better job job of getting him involved. He's always designated to get involved early. When he doesn't, it's not by design."

Marshall jokingly said he was "patting himself on the back" for being a good teammate, because nothing else went right for him.

Sure enough, Marshall was often spotted sitting alone on a small bench in the middle of the sideline, in front of the Gatorade. His smile, forced or not, was spotted from the press box across the stadium.

In previous weeks, Trestman said Marshall had come up to him a few times to talk about his role during a game. That's over, Marshall said.

"Sometimes you can communicate too much, and I was too frustrated," Marshall said. "There were times the ball came my way and I dropped it because I was too frustrated. So what I think is the best for the team is for me to stay at wide receiver and not try to be a coach and discuss things and get us in trouble."

Marshall said no matter what, he has faith in Trestman and Cutler. They too have faith in him. There's no need to pray for a better offense.

Just light a candle and give them time.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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