Marshall's reception gap not a good sign for Bears offense
Pro Bowl pick could end up with 100 more catches than team's closest wide receiver
By Brad Biggs, Chicago Tribune reporter
8:57 p.m. CST, December 26, 2012
In an improbable offensive year, the Bears could do something truly bizarre Sunday if Brandon Marshall has a monster game.
Odds are against it, but it's possible Marshall could wind up with 100 more receptions than the closest wide receiver on the roster. One hundred.
Marshall, selected Wednesday to the NFC Pro Bowl team in his first season with the Bears, enters the regular-season finale with 113 receptions — 89 more than the closest wide receiver, Earl Bennett. Running back Matt Forte is second on the team with 42 catches.
Outside of Marshall, the wide receiver corps has struggled to find consistency, and the statistics have grown more lopsided as the season has gone along. It's an issue the Bears will have to work to solve in the offseason, and it proves finding a No. 1 wide receiver isn't the cure to all offensive woes.
After all, the Lions' Calvin Johnson leads the NFL with 117 receptions for a record 1,892 yards, yet they are 4-11 and have problems scoring.
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was asked if he would like to be part of a duo like Matthew Stafford and Johnson.
"No," Cutler said. "I don't think … you know, it's impressive what they're doing. Lot of balls going his way. Lot of balls going (Marshall's) way. In an ideal world, you would like to get some other guys in the mix.
"If you can have three guys at 70, four guys at 60, 50, 60, 70 and really spread it around, it makes defenses a lot more honest. I'm not taking away anything that they have done. It's impressive."
Cutler isn't saying the offense targets Marshall too much — no one is — but for the first time in his weekly news conference he admitted the warped statistics aren't good for the team.
The Lions have gotten 57 catches from tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who has missed the last two games with an ankle injury and might not be ready this week.
On the outside, Nate Burleson had 27 catches in six games before a season-ending knee injury. Behavioral issues and a knee injury limited Titus Young (33 receptions) to 10 games, and rookie Ryan Broyles (22 receptions) played in only 10 games before tearing an ACL. So the Lions' issues opposite Johnson have been largely health-related.
The Bears sorely miss a presence in the middle of the field as tight end Kellen Davis has not met expectations. Asked why the Bears can't get other wide receivers more involved, Cutler quietly said, "Don't know," perhaps a reflection he's not happy in the system.
Rookie second-round pick Alshon Jeffery has missed six games. He has 20 catches for 291 yards. Bennett, coming off a handsome contract extension last December, has missed four games, which doesn't completely explain his inability to produce.
"We felt like when Alshon got hurt in Jacksonville (in Week 5), he was just starting to come on and have some rhythm and he and Jay were on the same page and it was exciting to see that growth," offensive coordinator Mike Tice said.
What the Bears liked most about pairing Marshall and Jeffery is they could play them with two tight ends and Forte and be in a powerful running formation while also having big targets on the outside.
"Same with Earl when it comes to injuries," Tice said. "And you lose that continuity. In order to be good in the passing game, you've got to be out there with your quarterback. If you're not out there with your quarterback, it's tough."
No one who follows the Lions says Johnson is dominating the offense in a negative way. But the Lions are seemingly in constant search of a balance.
"You've just got to find your matchups," Johnson said. "And when you have a favorable matchup, wherever it may be — if it's me, OK; if it's somebody else — then you've got to give them the ball. They've got to win their matchup too."
Until someone other than Marshall can win regularly, the Bears can't expect much to change.