In the team's first seven games this season, Cutler and Marshall have connected on 50 passes for 675 yards and four touchdowns.
In his first two seasons in Chicago, Cutler relied heavily on former Vanderbilt teammate, Earl Bennett. In 2009 Bennett finished the season with 54 catches for 717 yards and two touchdowns. In 2010 he followed that up with 46 catches for 561 yards, and three touchdowns. While not stellar numbers, Cutler relied on Bennett heavily in tough situations and on third downs.
Bennett has missed two games this season due to injury but only has 12 catches for 156 yards and no touchdowns. Sunday against the Panthers, he finally found a bit of a rhythm with Cutler, catching three balls for 47 yards, two of which came on the 44-second game-winning drive.
Bennett had been cast off at times earlier this season with rookie Alshon Jeffery coming on strong before an injury against the Jaguars and the Bears' desire to continue trying to implement the "Devin Hester package". After his strong showing late against the Panthers, however, the Bears need to realize he is the team's next best option.
He has gone on to say all the right things about his fluctuated playing time (h/t Chicago Sun-Times):
"The biggest thing for me is do my assignment, get open, catch the ball and help the offense score points.”
The offense has struggled in recent weeks to score points and with Marshall so often double-teamed, Cutler needs to learn to try and find the open receiver instead of always trying to force it to Marshall.
Bennett has been very successful in the past with picking up first downs and has always had reliable hands. With Jeffery's return still a week or two away and Devin Hester trying to figure out whether he wants to be a receiver or a return man, the door is wide open for Bennett. Furthermore, if teams continue to run two-man coverage on Marshall, Bennett has the ability to come up big.
The Bears and Cutler have said that this offense is still a work in progress, but if they want to succeed not only in the regular season, but also in the playoffs, they need to find another threat in the passing game. Bennett is ready to take that next step.
Matt Eurich is a contributor to Bearsbacker.com. Follow Bears Backer on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute news about the Bears. Also, check out Matt’s work on BleacherReport.com and follow him on Twitter @MattEurich.