Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall was targeted 17 times Sunday in the team's 41-3 pounding of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Some analysts say that's excessive. Depending on one receiver that much will result in tighter coverages, they pontificate, and will ultimately lead to forced passes and interceptions.
Seventeen times seems like a lot, but the results speak for themselves: Marshall caught 12 passes for 144 yards, both season highs, and had a touchdown pass for the second straight game. He accounted for six first downs, including a nifty 12-yard catch on coach Lovie Smith's risky fourth down call, and nearly a quarter of the team's offensive output.
But that's just one game. Let's take a look at what Marshall is doing a wider scale: He's the first Bear wide receiver since 1999 to have back-to-back 100-yard games, the first to catch 10 passes or more in a game since 2002. Those two facts alone tell it all: The Bears have never had a receiver quite like Marshall, who's teaming up with quarterback Jay Cutler to open doors that have long been nailed shut in Chicago.
The Bears cranked out 501 yards of offense Sunday afternoon, the most in 23 years, and numbers like that simply would not be possible without Marshall in the lineup. He's currently fourth in the league in receiving yards, sixth in yards per game and 14th in yards after the catch. He has big-play potential every down, which forces opposing defenses to pay attention.
Cutler has big-play potential too. Yeah, he can be a gunslinger, and he's been known to throw a bad pass or two. But he's never had a target, at least as a Bear, like Marshall to throw the ball to.
I say milk the Cutler-Marshall tandem for all it's worth: Throw Marshall the ball early and often until opposing defenses prove they can stop it, which based on a quick glance at his career stats, can be tough to do. If they do, the Bears have other talented receivers - Devin Hester, Earl Bennett, Kellen Davis, Dane Sanzenbacher - who can also catch the ball.
Overall, Marshall has been targeted 56 times in five games, which doesn't seem excessive, and has 35 catches. I'd expect the catch-to-targeted ratio to improve as the season progresses, as Marshall and Cutler reestablish the chemistry that lead both to the Pro Bowl in 2009 as Denver Broncos.
Here's another way to look at it: Marshall is on pace for a 1,500-yard season, which is something the Bears, in 93 years of professional football, have never had.
With results like those being produced, I hope they target Marshall 17 times in every game.
Notes: Rookie Alshon Jeffery, the team's second leading receiver, suffered a broken hand in Sunday's game and is expected to miss a couple of games….. Bennett, who missed the last two games with a hand injury, is expected to return after the bye week.
YCN featured sports contributor Steve Merritt is - for better or worse - a lifelong Chicago Bulls, Bears and Cubs fan.
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