November 17, 2010
BY SEAN JENSEN email@example.com
Kurt Warner, who mastered Mike Martz's offense better than any other quarterback, sees a key difference between his famed Greatest Show on Turf in St.Louis and the Erratic Show on Slippery Grass in Chicago.
''I think the one difference is, we had great players,'' said Warner, the NFL Network's ''Thursday Night Football'' pregame analyst. ''I'm not sure any of the players there are necessarily what you would say are great players, just by -- quote-unquote -- NFL standards. Where they're at right now, I don't know if anybody would be in that class.''
Of the skill position players, the most credible are running backs Matt Forte and Chester Taylor, who have topped 1,000 rushing yards one time each. The Bears are encouraged by the potential of under-30 players like receiver Devin Hester, receiver Johnny Knox and tight end Greg Olsen, but nobody on the team has emerged as a go-to threat for quarterback Jay Cutler.
The Bears have the league's 29th-ranked offense, and Knox, the team's leading receiver, is a respectable 14th in the NFL in receiving yards but 28th in the NFC in catches with 32. Two other teams in the conference (the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants) have three players apiece with more catches than Knox, and six NFC tight ends are ahead of Knox in balls caught.
Then there's this: Knox has been targeted a team-high 58 times, yet three receivers (Atlanta's Roddy White, Indianapolis' Reggie Wayne and Cincinnati's Terrell Owens) have more catches.
When he took control of the Rams' offense in 1999, Warner had at his disposal running back Marshall Faulk (already a three-time Pro Bowl selection), Isaac Bruce (a two-time 1,000-yard receiver) and Torry Holt (the sixth overall pick in the NFL Draft).
Still, Warner insisted the Bears offense can thrive this season under Martz.
''If you make the right decisions, and the guys are in the right spot, and he catches the ball, it doesn't matter how talented they are,'' Warner said. ''All the players I had were great. But you gain that confidence where you believe in the system. If the people are running it the right way, it just leads to success. I'm a firm believer in the system and what it does.''
The Bears seem to have recognized that they lack a No. 1-type receiver and instead are focusing on depth. In three of the first four games, the Bears attempted passes to only six different players. In the two games since the bye, they targeted eight and nine different players, respectively.
Perhaps most impressive, though, is that seven different players converted third downs in a 27-13 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
''It's hard on defenses,'' Cutler said of the Bears' distribution of the ball. ''[Defenses] don't know who to key on, especially on third down. We've seen some exotic coverages on some guys, seen them bracket some guys, but if we keep up the ability to move the ball around to different guys it's harder for them to key on somebody.''
The Miami Dolphins didn't have a true No. 1 receiver last season when Davone Bess, who was undrafted in 2008, led the team with 76 catches for 758 yards. But the Dolphins acquired two-time Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall -- Cutler's top target in Denver -- for a second-round pick last offseason. Marshall leads the Dolphins and is 10th in the NFL with 652 receiving yards.
''It means a great deal to have a receiver of his ability,'' Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said. ''It's opening up things for a lot of people out there. So much attention is being paid to Brandon with double coverage and rolled coverage, that type of thing, that it's opened up opportunities for other players out there. And with the amount of shell defenses that we might see, it's opened up the run game quite a bit.''
Right now, the Bears don't have that luxury, and so they focus on spreading the proverbial wealth. Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz said he's not ''consciously'' trying to work the ball to so many players.
''But we're trying to get these guys chances to make plays because it helps us and you don't become so predictable offensively,'' Martz said. ''They've really risen to the occasion.''
Receiver Rashied Davis and tight end Kellen Davis hadn't even had a pass intended for them this season, but they each got a chance against the Vikings and made key catches.
Martz provided each an opportunity, and they both reinforced the coaches' belief in them.
''Every time I step on the field, I feel great about any matchup when I'm lined up against anybody,'' Davis said. ''I'm confident in what I can do. I knew that play was coming to me.''
PLENTY OF OPTIONS TO CHOOSE FROM:
Player Targets Catches Yds. Avg. TD
Johnny Knox 58 32 617 19.3 1
Greg Olsen 47 24 282 11.8 4
Devin Hester 42 24 243 10.1 2
Matt Forte 40 30 324 10.8 3
Earl Bennett 39 27 284 10.5 1
D. Aromashodu 20 8 120 15.0 0
Chester Taylor 19 14 100 7.1 0
B. Manumaleuna 2 2 14 7.0 0
Desmond Clark 2 1 12 12.0 0
Rashied Davis 1 1 12 12.0 0
Kellen Davis 1 1 19 19.0 1