As the 2012 Chicago Bears regular season prepares to lift the lid on Sunday, nearly everyone thinks that the addition of Brandon Marshall means that quarterback Jay Cutler will finally live up to the hype in Chicago and have a Pro Bowl season on the lakefront.
The argument is that Cutler will no longer be handcuffed with poor receiver play and assume top-flight QB status.
Yes, Cutler will instantly get better now that he has a true No. 1 receiver, but he will not see the greatest uptick in opportunity. That is Marshall’s gift for Forte and it rests on two simple observations.
First, instead of stacking the box against the run, as defenses have done the last few years, opposing teams will often times leave their free safety in coverage mode first and run support second. That will open many lanes for Forte, who averaged 4.9 yards per rush last season, to exploit.
To be sure, the offensive line didn’t look very good run blocking against the New York Giants during the preseason, but they are built to open holes. In reality it is probably the only thing they do well, so a defensive game plan that tries to limit the Cutler/Marshall combination will play into the offensive line’s strength.
Second, Forte is incredibly effective out of the backfield. Think what he can do with screen passes now that a safety is likely going to be occupied 25 yards downfield with Marshall, and how sweet is a play-action go route to Marshall followed by a flare to Forte out of the backfield going to look on consecutive plays.
Expect Forte's number to be called 30 times per game.
Now, will Marshall get to 1,000 yards receiving this year? Yes. Actually he could approach 1,200 yards. After all, he already has five consecutive 1,000 yard seasons and an outstanding relationship with Cutler. And, if Marshall reaches 1,000 yards, there is a fairly good chance that Cutler makes the Pro Bowl.
A better question though is whether or not Forte has a realistic chance of 1,400 yards rushing and 600 yards receiving now that defensive game plans are going to stop keying on him and focus on the Bear’s new receiver.
The answer to that is absolutely, and if Forte can get to 2,000 all-purpose yards, the Bears will supplant the Green Bay Packers as NFC North champions, and he will need to send Marshall a thank-you card.