Commentary

Marshall right on target

Talented receiver will help Cutler become QB Bears fans have been waiting for

Updated: September 10, 2012, 7:22 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- The new Chicago Bears' three-ring circus offense started off in traditional clown car fashion.

A sack, a false start, an incompletion, a pick-six on a screen pass. It all felt so traditional, like a Henry Burris throwback jersey or a traffic jam on Lake Shore Drive.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Marshall
David Banks/Getty ImagesBrandon Marshall had a team-high nine catches for 119 yards and a touchdown in his Bears debut.

It took Jay Cutler a whole six plays before he connected with Brandon Marshall and once he did, everything changed en route to a 41-21 blowout victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

Yes, the Throwmance has commenced.

Their first completion, a 13-yarder on third and 10, came off a mad Cutler scramble away from pressure and got the Bears a first down and jump-started an 11-play, 80-yard scoring drive.

Matt Forte carried the load, as usual, on that drive with runs of 32 and 15 yards, and Michael Bush vultured a touchdown with a 1-yard score, but it all started with Cutler to Marshall. As Cutler joked, if he and Marshall didn't connect early and often, the media would "have a field day."

Instead they had a field day.

Cutler went on to target Marshall 15 times -- 12 in the first half -- or nine more than the next Bears receiver. Marshall finished with nine catches for 119 yards and a 3-yard touchdown pass to cap off a 95-yard drive in the second quarter to give the Bears a 14-7 lead, one they wouldn't relinquish.

Cutler would find, and sometimes miss, Marshall wide-open across the middle, bracketed by two or three defensive backs on the sideline, in one-on-one coverage in the end zone, down the sideline. Wherever Marshall roamed, Cutler had a bead on him. The quarterback said the defense wasn't focusing too much on Marshall, but he sure was.

After three years of driving Mini Coopers, Datsun hatchbacks and Vespas, wouldn't you want to take the Aston Martin for a cruise?

Cutler was the bigger deal when he got traded from Denver, but Marshall's arrival portends the offensive revolution we've been waiting for. Offense works better with a big, experienced receiver. Who knew?

"We work together," Forte said. "If they want to stack the box, they're going to let the receivers be open. If they want to play the safeties out and over the top, it's going to open up the running lanes. So it kind of goes hand in hand."

Forte said he loves watching Marshall do his thing, "especially because Brandon likes to block in the run game."

Marshall, whose personal problems are well-documented, has been a model teammate, and seems wary of basking in media attention as The No. 1 Receiver and takes pains to say he gets the most excitement from his teammates doing well. Aren't No. 1 guys supposed to be divas?

"I know Jay, he spreads it out, but he definitely takes advantage of the matchups," Marshall said. "In this league, it's all about the matchups, and today it just happened to be a wheelbarrow for me. But next week it might be a shot glass. Alshon (Jeffery) had a shot glass, it was just three caches, but he went for 80 (yards), so he can still have a little feeing there."

The Wheelbarrow and the Shot Glass. I must have missed that fable about sharing growing up, but I'd like to hear more.

At first glance, Cutler didn't really spread it out too much. Jeffrey, Forte and Earl Bennett each had three catches, Hester two and Kyle Adams one. But Marshall's 24-yard catch in the second quarter was only the Bears' sixth-longest play of the game.

Jeffery had a 42-yard touchdown made possible by Marshall getting safety attention, Forte had his 32-yard run and a 31-yard screen pass run, Hester had a 29-yard catch and Earl Bennett a 25-yard catch.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJay Cutler passed for 333 yards and two touchdowns against the Colts.

Most of Marshall's catches were drive facilitators, coming on first or second down. On third, Cutler went 2-for-4 targeting Marshall, with just that sole first down. Marshall did draw two pass-interference penalties in the end zone.

Cutler's day will look better in hindsight. Still, he only threw one interception (the Colts could've had a couple more) and went 21-for-35 with 333 yards, highlighted perhaps by his last touchdown pass, that bomb up the middle to Jeffrey that was made possible by the attention placed on Marshall. And he did all of that after starting the game 1-of-10.

That play showcased the new Bears' offense and Cutler's confidence in running it.

"If you look at it, you have to pay attention to what Jay did (on that play)," Marshall said. "Jay made an audible, but the audible was for me to got attract that safety. That's what you expect out of your quarterback, a quarterback like Jay to put guys in position. Jay drew it up perfectly, where he put me on a route to grab the safety, and it freed up the route."

Forte said one of the safeties was playing up to stop him, while the other was on Marshall's adjusted route.

"I saw that the safety was cheating over toward (Marshall), and when I was running my route, I was just looking at the safety the whole time," Jeffery said. "Once I saw him turn, I knew it was coming to me then."

Asked if his eyes were wide-open, Jeffery said, "I just thought he over-threw me."

That pass was pretty representative of Cutler's day, a little wild, but in the end, just what we envisioned when the Bears traded for him. Cutler was Cutler, and now with two more receivers, Marshall and Jeffery, legit Go-Up-and-Save-It Guys, he's a better Cutler than we've seen.

If Cutler has that preseason-to-Super Bowl breakout season we've been waiting for, fatherhood, typical maturation of a quarterback and improved control of the offense will all be used to explain it. But really, it might just be having better receivers to cover up his mistakes.

Hey, they always say it's a team game, and Cutler finally has a team around him.

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.