What Brandon Marshall's Rib Injury Means for Chicago Bears Offense

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistDecember 5, 2014

Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall (15) walks off the field during the first half of an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

The Chicago Bears likely watched their ever-fading playoff hopes die a cruel death on Thursday night, when the team dropped a conference matchup to the Dallas Cowboys 41-28.

In addition to losing the game, the Chicago Bears also lost standout wide receiver Brandon Marshall for what could be an extended period of time.

After making a pair of crucial catches on a second-quarter Bears scoring drive, Marshall suffered an apparent rib injury and had to be helped off the field. He was later taken away from Soldier Field altogether via ambulance, which gives at least some indication of the severity of the injury.

Brandon Marshall @BMarshall

Thanks for the Prayers. .. I'm Good. #MindOverMatter

If Marshall does indeed miss significant time, the Bears may have a difficult time tasting victory again this season. 

Not only is Marshall one of the more decorated receivers in recent Chicago history (first Bears receiver with multiple 100-catch seasons), he is also a key centerpiece of the entire Bears offense.

The reason it will be so difficult for Chicago to replace Marshall is because of his role in Marc Trestman's offense. While he possesses the size of a prototypical wide receiver (6'4", 230 pounds), he does a lot of his damage out of the slot.

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According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Marshall took 49.3 percent of his snaps as a slot receiver prior to Thursday night. He gained 248 of his 660 yards and three of eight touchdowns while working out of the slot as well. 

SportsCenter @SportsCenter

Bears WR Brandon Marshall is out for remainder of game with ribs injury. He left game via ambulance and has been taken to hospital.

He currently ranks sixth in the NFL with a catch percentage of 71.0 as a slot receiver.

Marshall is also a notable downfield threat, ranking 32nd among all receivers in deep passing this season, according to Pro Football Focus

Lining up Marshall in the slot allows the Bears to create mismatches in the middle of the field and against a variety of coverage. However it is Marshall's ability to thrive in this role and his reliability as a slot receiver that make the entire concept work.

If Marshall couldn't perform in the slot, it would be much more difficult for Chicago to move him around the field and take advantage of these mismatches when they are presented.

The Bears have other deep threats on the roster. Alshon Jeffery, for instance, is ranked by Pro Football Focus as the 23rd-best receiver in deep passing. The trick for Chicago will be trying to find a reliable target or targets for quarterback Jay Cutler that can produce in a variety of offensive roles.

Tight end Martellus Bennett may take over as Cutler's go-to man in short-yardage situations, while Jeffery is likely to remain the Bears primary deep threat. You can also expect running back Matt Forte (650 receiving yards through Week 13) to stay a big part of the Chicago passing game.

Perhaps the biggest change will be an expanded role for second-year receiver Marquess Wilson. Wilson suffered a broken clavicle during offseason workouts but was activated in mid-November and added to the roster.

At 6'4" and 184 pounds, Wilson doesn't have the same size and strength as Marshall, but he does pose a similar height advantage. Despite appearing in just three games prior to Thursday, Wilson ranks fourth on the team with a catch percentage of 33.0 out of the slot, according to Pro Football Focus.

He finished Thursday's game with two receptions and 19 yards.

Bringing back a former wide receiver like Michael Spurlock or Santonio Holmes might be another possibility, though neither player did enough to stick around in their last stints with the team.

All of this, of course, is assuming that Marshall can't return to the playing field in a timely manner. Though Marshall himself tweeted from the hospital "I'm good," it appears that the talented receiver may indeed miss some time.

Brandon Marshall in 2014
via NFL.com

According to NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport, Marshall suffered two broken ribs and an injured lung and remains in the hospital a day after suffering the injuries.

Brandon Marshall @BMarshall

Thanks for the Prayers. .. I'm Good. #MindOverMatter

With tough matchups against the New Orleans Saints, Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings remaining on the schedule, the Bears had better hope their talented wide receiver can truly be declared "good" sooner rather than later. 

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