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Brandon Marshall Looking Healthy, Opening Up Bears Offense with Big Plays

Bear Heiser@@BearHeiserFeatured ColumnistOctober 14, 2014

Oct 12, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall (15) eludes a tackle by Atlanta Falcons cornerback Robert Alford (23) after a reception in the first quarter of their game at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

After a very quiet couple of weeks, Brandon Marshall finally had his breakout game of the season in the Chicago Bears’ 27-13 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

Marshall caught six passes on nine targets for 113 yards. The 100-yard performance is Marshall’s first of the season, and he eclipsed the mark by end of the first half. Zach Zaidman of the Chicago Bears Radio Network reported on the historical significance of this game for Marshall:

Zach Zaidman @ZachZaidman

Brandon Marshall's 14th 100-yard receiving game ties him with Mike Ditka for 3rd-most in #Bears history.

One week ago Monday, head coach Marc Trestman told reporters that the Bears needed to get Marshall more involved in the offense, via ESPNChicago.com’s Jeff Dickerson:

We want him to have more productivity. When he touches the ball good things happen. Over the last couple of weeks we haven’t been able to get that done. It’s certainly something we have to continue to work on to get him back involved where he can get more touches that will result in bigger plays.

Trestman wanted more productivity from Marshall, and that’s exactly what the coach got from his receiver. The Bears entered Sunday with an opportunity to exploit a few mismatches in the Falcons secondary, specifically Marshall’s matchup with second-year cornerback Robert Alford, who stands six inches shorter than the Bears receiver.

Marshall was targeted seven times when Alford provided the primary coverage, four of which resulted in receptions that totaled 87 yards. Alford was in coverage on Marshall when he and Cutler connected for a 47-yard completion.

Brandon Marshall gives Robert Alford the stiff-arm of all stiff-arms.
Brandon Marshall gives Robert Alford the stiff-arm of all stiff-arms.Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
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The completion came in the second quarter, on the drive that was a result of a great defensive stop by the Bears defense. Marshall lined up in the slot on the right side of Cutler, who then found his receiver running toward the left sideline. Marshall had won his battle and was open enough to catch and run with the ball. A few plays later, Cutler found Josh Morgan in the end zone for six.

“I know he (Marshall) felt 100 percent the last couple weeks,” Cutler said, via ChicagoBears.com. “But he’s finally now getting a little bit of burst back.”

The “burst” Cutler is referring to is what Marshall used to create separation on the route, in and out of his breaks. Said burst also is what allowed Marshall to zip around the field on his way to gaining 48 yards after catch; though it’s also what Marshall has been lacking since he suffered an ankle injury in the Week 1 loss to the Buffalo Bills.

Marshall’s ankle injury has been a big talking point of late, too. He came out last week and said that team doctors, before the Week 2 game against the San Francisco 49ers, told him his ankle needed rest and that he shouldn't play. Marshall played anyway.

"The first two weeks, the doctors ruled me out," Marshall said, via ESPNChicago.com’s Michael C. Wright. "They said I wasn't going to play. I went to them and said, ‘Just make it a game-time decision.’ I thought with some adrenaline I’d be able to go. … "

Against the 49ers, Marshall caught three touchdown passes on five catches for 48 yards. Whatever adrenaline got Marshall through that game should be bottled up and saved for later use.

It was after the San Francisco game when Marshall suddenly went quiet, on and off the field. The receiver wasn't talking to reporters, and he wasn't catching many passes. In Weeks 3-5, Marshall caught just six passes on 17 targets for 69 yards and a touchdown. It was the least productive stretch of his three seasons with the Bears.

Brandon Marshall production, Weeks 3-5
GameStats
Week 3 vs. NYJOne reception for six yards on six targets
Week 4 vs. GBTwo receptions for 19 yards & one touchdown on six targets
Week 5 vs. CARThree receptions for 44 yards on five targets
TotalsSix receptions for 79 yards & one touchdown on 17 targets
ESPN.com

Marshall now has played in 38 games with the Bears. He’s only been held under three catches on four occasions, two of which came in back-to-back games this season, Weeks 3 and 4.

It was Marshall’s lack of burst and Alshon Jeffery’s hamstring injury that led to his lack of production, as the Bears offense struggled to move the ball vertically in back-to-back losses to Green Bay and Carolina in Weeks 4 and 5. The Bears weren't taking shots down the field, because Marshall and Jeffery weren't being sent on routes that led them down the field. John Mullin of CSNChicago.com provided insight on the situation:

John Mullin @moonmullinNBCS

#Bears HC Trestman - having healthy WRs enabled practicing deep game last week vs not before, w/ Marshall slowed and Jeffery hmstrng before

Trestman and Cutler kept the ball in the middle of the field, playing from sideline to sideline. It worked in the first half each week, as the Bears outscored the Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers by a score of 38-35. The second half went much differently, though, as both opposing head coaches made the necessary adjustments at halftime to combat the Bears’ dink-and-dunk strategy that led to Matt Forte catching 17 passes in the two losses.

Both Cutler and Trestman know that the Bears need to move the ball downfield in order to create space everywhere else. After Sunday’s win, the quarterback addressed the challenges of playing the short game:

It wasn't frustrating. It's just hard to go 80 or 90 going dink, dink, dink, dink, dink because sooner or later you're going to miss one and you're going to be third-and-8. Just to keep the flow of our offense, we kind of have to (go downfield).

Throwing the ball downfield is what led to both Marshall and Jeffery going over 100 yards receiving. Jeffery added five catches for 136 yards on seven targets. Sunday marked the second time both receivers went over 100 yards in the same game. The first time came last season in a loss to the Detroit Lions.

The Bears don’t need 100-yard performances every week out of both Marshall and Jeffery. The Bears need both guys healthy. As long as that happens, the Bears duo will continue to sit atop the list of the NFL’s best.

“We gotta get better,”  Marshall said after Sunday’s win, via Adam Hoge of The Game 87.7 FM. “That wasn’t good enough. We gotta get better.”

He's got the right attitude for the future.

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