By Adam Hoge-
HALAS HALL (CBS) — Two catches, 24 yards.
That was all Brandon Marshall could get the last time he went up to Lambeau Field, when the Bears lost 23-10 in a porous offensive performance against the Packers.
Just a week after Marshall posted nine catches for 119 yards and a touchdown in his Bears debut against the Colts, Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers employed a two-man look on Marshall and essentially erased him from the field for most of the game.
Before Marshall arrived in Chicago, the Packers had feasted on Bears receivers with press coverage, which you may remember led quarterback Jay Cutler to say “good luck” to the Packers if they chose to continue that coverage on Marshall.
“We invite press coverage and we invite man and if we get in that type of game, our guys outside need to make some plays for us,” Cutler said leading up to the Bears’ Week 2 matchup in Green Bay last season.
Of course, Cutler didn’t get the press coverage he was hoping for — at least on Marshall — and he failed to spread the ball around to his other receivers who were single covered.
Essentially the Packers committed an extra safety to Marshall in both games against the Bears last season, much like teams often do to poor passing teams, putting an extra safety in the box to stop the run.
This was a typical pre-snap look by the Packers’ secondary last year against the Bears. Circled in yellow is safety Morgan Burnett, who appears to be giving a single-high look, but just before the snap, he shifts to his right to provide over the top coverage on Marshall:
As you can see, when Cutler gets the shotgun snap, Burnett has already creeped over to the right third of the field:
With cornerback Sam Shields underneath, the Packers have Marshall blanketed, forcing Cutler to look elsewhere. He attempts to find Kellen Davis splitting the seam up the middle, but, as was often the case with Davis, the pass fell incomplete (although the Packers were called for pass interference on the play).
Marshall said this week that he saw even more double-coverage in the second matchup against the Packers last year, when he managed to catch six passes for 56 yards and a touchdown, but once again, spreading the ball around was a problem. Marshall’s six catches accounted for all the receptions by Bears wide receivers in the game as Alshon Jeffery was shutout despite four targets from Cutler.
But this time around, the Bears feel like they are better equipped — from a personnel and coaching standpoint — to handle the Packers’ pass coverage.
“We feel that way because we’re not gearing every play to one guy or one type of play,” head coach Marc Trestman said. “We are spreading the ball around in terms of our primary target play by play and certainly Brandon has his share or more than his share. But I never really go into it thinking that they’re going to stop us all. If they’re taking one guy away with two, then somebody’s open with single coverage somewhere and it’s our job within the design of the play and from the standpoint of our reads to be able to get it to that guy.”
There’s little doubt the Bears’ upgraded personnel will make it harder on the Packers to use two-man coverage on Marshall. If Burnett cheats to one sideline, tight end Martellus Bennett will be able to exploit the middle, while Jeffery has already proven deadly with single coverage.
“I don’t know if they’re going to give Alshon 1-on-1s this year either,” Marshall said. “He’s leading our team in receiving yards. He’s been doing a lot of damage. If they decide to take Alshon and myself out of the game, you still have Martellus. If they take Martellus and myself out of the game, we have Alshon. They have to pick the guy they’re going to let beat them and hopefully we step up to that challenge and get it done.”
Of course, the Bears will have to do so with backup quarterback Josh McCown, as Jay Cutler sits out with a groin injury. But as Trestman pointed out, his scheme will help combat double coverage on any receiving target, which has been evident all season. He has plays designed to target specific receivers based on the coverage and has trained the quarterbacks to properly read the defense and check at the line of scrimmage. While McCown may lack Cutler’s physical attributes, he understands the offense inside and out and proved against Washington that he is capable of running the offense smoothly.
“I feel like we’ve shown this year with our offensive game plans and our ability to move the ball, that hopefully I feel like we’ll be prepared,” McCown said. “I feel like we’ll be ready to put our best foot forward as good as we ever have here in the past. That obviously gives you a comfort level as a quarterback going into this game.”
McCown was quick to give credit to Capers, who he called “a heck of coach”, but the Bears are countering with their own coach — Marc Trestman — who was hired to solve the team’s offensive struggles, most notably against the Packers.
Given the struggles of the Bears’ defense, it might be asking too much to expect a win in Green Bay, but at the very least, the Bears need to prove they’ve closed the offensive gap between them and their rivals to the north.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.