Marsh In Moderation?
Put some trust in other weapons
Brandon Marshall wouldn't agree, but there's certainly truth to the notion that too much of a good thing can be bad with regard to how the receiver is targeted in the passing game by quarterback Jay Cutler.
Their chemistry is immaculate. Marshall serves significantly as Cutler's crutch in a pinch.
But if Marshall matches his reception total of 2012 (118 catches), it's safe to hypothesize that the offense will have suffered as a result. Sounds kooky, yes. But a quick look at the Bears' offense pre- and post-Marshall indicates that leaning on the receiver too much adversely affects the quarterback and the offense in general.
Without Marshall in the lineup in 2011, Chicago's quarterbacks combined to complete 56.6 percent of their passes for a 73.8 quarterback rating, 18 touchdowns and 20 interceptions, which ranked No. 26 in the league. Last season, with Cutler flinging the majority of the passes in Marshall's direction, the club's quarterbacks completed 59.1 of their passes for a rating of 80.4 with 21 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. So while Marshall undoubtedly ranks as one of the league's most dangerous receivers, going to him too often can be detrimental.
Just as the Green Bay Packers did last September at Lambeau Field, teams will devote a good portion of the game plan toward taking Marshall out of the picture. At times, they'll be successful, too. Blanketed with bracket coverage by the Packers in that game, Marshall caught two passes for 24 yards and no touchdowns (he dropped what would have been a TD) as Cutler threw four interceptions and finished with a passer rating of 28.2. Cutler didn't look Marshall's way until the third quarter, and the first connection between the two didn't come until there was 7:20 left to play.
That would have been fine had Cutler been utilizing the rest of his weapons. But in that game, the Bears generated just 168 yards on offense, with 74 passing. So Green Bay put the rest of the league on alert with that performance. Take out Marshall, and you take out the rest of the offense, too.
That's why Cutler needs to lean on other weapons such as Alshon Jeffery, Earl Bennett, running back Matt Forte, and tight end Martellus Bennett. After all, that foursome alone counts $12.591 million against the club's salary cap for 2013. If you're paying that much money, might as well use them.
Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com
Supporting cast must emerge
It's perfectly acceptable for Cutler to target Marshall 10 times per week, granted the four-time Pro Bowl receiver is open.
Marshall has caught at least 100 balls in four of the past six seasons. He is one of the best receivers in the game. Feed him the football.
That was in 2011.
Should the Bears go back to the old way of doing things?
No. Conventional wisdom suggests Marshall once again will put up big numbers with Cutler at quarterback. Maybe he falls short of the 118 receptions for 1,508 yards and 11 touchdowns he had last season, but cracking 100 catches and 1,200 yards is realistic and likely.
What needs to change isn't necessarily the total amount of Marshall targets in a given season, it's finding a way to force Cutler to spread the ball around to his other weapons on the occasions when Marshall can't get open.
For example, the Green Bay Packers found a way to limit Marshall to two catches for 24 yards in Week 2 last September. But nobody was able to pick up the slack and elevate their game to compensate, especially the quarterback, who tossed four interceptions and went off the deep end after one too many hits.
It can't be Marshall or broke.
And when the alternate options are thrown the ball, they have to catch it -- something certain players struggled to do when called upon in 2012.
Marshall can still be the go-to guy. He needs to be the go-to guy. But the time has come for the rest of the offense to pick up the slack when necessary.
Jeff Dickerson covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com