Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler says, “Don’t panic.” Despite targeting wide receiver Brandon Marshall on all five of his passes in the team’s second preseason game, Cutler says he’ll spread the ball out once the regular season hits.
But what is his definition of “spread the ball out?” Cutler’s reliance on Marshall in 2012 far surpassed “security blanket” status. In fact, Marshall was the target of a Cutler pass almost a third more often than the next highest QB-WR combo in the NFL.
Take a look at the numbers:
Cutler completed 255 passes, on 434 attempts.
Marshall caught 116 balls, and was targeted 190 times in games started by Cutler. Admittedly, that includes a statistically insignificant amount of targets and catches by other quarterbacks in games Cutler left due to injury.
That means 44% of Cutler’s attempts and 46% of his completions were aimed at Marshall. Here are the next closest target percentages by wide receivers in the NFL:
Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts: 31%
Andre Johnson, Houston Texans, 30%
A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals, 31%
Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions: 28%
That’s not even close. The Cutler-Marshall combo, by far, was the most common in the league. But in itself, that’s not an issue. Marshall set career highs in receptions (118), yards (1508), and touchdowns (11) in 2012, as part of a remarkably productive season. Yet the Bears offense sputtered.
What was the difference between the 2012 Bears offense, and the 2008 Broncos unit that inspired the Chicago brass to go after the young signal caller anyway?
On the surface, not a whole lot. Marshall caught 104 balls that year, for 1265 yards and six touchdowns. Similar, yet slightly inferior numbers to his 2012 Chicago campaign. The difference lies in the quarterback. Here’s a comparison between the Jay Cutler of 2008, and that of 2012:
2008: 62.3% completions, 4,526 yards, 25 touchdowns and 18 interceptions
2012: 58.8% completions, 3033 yards, 19 touchdowns and 14 interceptions
It’s a remarkable difference. Cutler’s production dropped in every offensive category, with the only exception being interceptions. Upon further review, it’s easy to see why. Besides Marshall, the 2008 Broncos had four players with more than 30 receptions. Tops amongst those was Eddie Royal, who caught 91 passes for 980 yards, making the receiving duo of Marshall and Royal one of the most productive in the NFL.
In 2012, the Bears had exactly… zero wide receivers with more than 30 receptions. They also had… zero tight ends with more than 30 receptions. The only Bear besides Marshall to catch more than 30 balls was a running back, Matt Forte, who reeled in 44.
So is it Cutler… or his receivers to blame for this overwhelming over reliance on a single player? History says Cutler is capable of spreading out the football. The player Chicago traded for after the 2008 season was adept at it. In 2012, the Bears had no capable receiving tight end, an injury plagued wide receiving corps (Earl Bennett played in 12 games and Alshon Jeffery played in just 10) and an unwillingness to design plays for the running backs. That has to change.
After a practice this week, Cutler told reporters:
“You guys are hitting the panic button after two preseason games and 30 plays. Yeah, we’re going to spread it around. We can’t just throw to Brandon and give the ball to Matt. We have to figure out ways to get other guys involved.”
The man speaks the truth. But it’s one thing to say it… Bears fans want to see it in action.
However, Cutler can’t just start winging it around to receivers who aren’t open. Jeffery needs to stay healthy and show improvement in year two. Bennett, who is already banged up with concussion symptoms, needs to find a way to stay on the field. New tight end Martellus Bennett must live up to his hefty free-agent contract.
But most importantly, Cutler needs to throw it to the open man, whether that’s Marshall, or not. The Bears 2013 season depends on it.
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