But there’s one glaring weakness that could keep the Bears from reaching the promised land: a No. 2 wideout.
Brandon Marshall has been as good as advertised. He’s tied for seventh in the National Football League in receiving yards. He’s averaging more than 14 yards per catch, and has scored four touchdowns in six games.
But the Bears haven’t found a viable No. 2 wide receiver. The Chicago receiver with the next most receiving yards is Alshon Jeffrey with 184 yards, tied for 104th in the NFL. And Jeffery missed last Monday’s game with a hand injury and may be out a few more weeks.
The second half of the Bears’ schedule gets much tougher, facing teams with very good defensive backs. The Bears play Houston, San Francisco, Seattle, Arizona and Detroit, all who are among the Top 10 defenses in receiving yards allowed.
Marshall is going to continue to see double teams, forcing the Bears to spread the ball around. Matt Forte will keep getting catches out of the backfield (although he’s only averaging 2.6 receptions per game compared to 4.3 last season). But without an established, quality receiver to complement Marshall, the Bears won’t find themselves in New Orleans on February 3.
The one thing other Super Bowl contenders have that the Bears don’t is a solid second option at wide receiver. The Falcons have Roddy White and Julio Jones. The Giants have Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. The Patriots have Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski. Even San Francisco’s wideouts trump the Bears. They have four players with more receiving yards than Chicago’s second highest receiver.
So what are Chicago’s options?
Jeffery looked promising early on but there’s no telling how productive he’ll be whenever it is he comes back from his injury. For years Devin Hester was supposed to be a No. 1 or No. 2 receiver, but the kick return specialist has never had more than 760 receiving yards or four receiving touchdowns in a season. After that, you’re left with Earl Bennett, Dane Sanzenbacher, or Eric Weems, who have a combined 10 receptions this season.
The one player capable of emerging as Cutler’s second go-to pass catcher is Kellen Davis. The 6'7", 267-pound tight end has nine catches for 132 yards while being used mainly for blocking.
His size makes him the perfect option for the third-down conversions the Bears aren’t getting when Marshall is covered. Bears fans saw Davis’ potential during the week four game vs. Dallas. He had three receptions for 62 yards, including a 25-yard grab.
If Chicago starts utilizing Davis more in the offense, and if Davis can hold on to the football (he has three dropped passes already this season), the Bears may have the second option they have been looking for.
Most of the pieces are in place for the Bears to emerge as the best team in the NFC. If Cutler can find a second receiver he trusts, Chicago will have the firepower to beat any team in the league.