Chicago Finally Gives Cutler Help at Receiver

Brandon Marshall (Dennis Wierzbicki/USP)

Even though the Bears mortgaged the house to get quarterback Jay Cutler, they never bothered to get him a real wide receiver for his first three seasons in Chicago. When you see these numbers, you'll understand why he was 1-5 against Green Bay. The addition of Brandon Marshall, however, changes everything.

Jay Cutler's debut with the Chicago Bears did not end well.

Trailing 21-15 against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Sept. 13, 2009, Cutler had 1:06 to navigate the Bears 62 yards for the winning touchdown. Instead, on the first snap of the series, Cutler fired a pass toward Johnny Knox that was intercepted by Al Harris.

Cutler's 17 completions that night were split among eight players. Only three of them were receivers: Earl Bennett, Devin Hester and Knox. The other receivers on the roster were Devin Aromashodu and Rashied Davis. That quintet returned intact in 2010. In 2011, Knox, Hester and Bennett were joined by underachiever Roy Williams and rookie Dane Sanzenbacher.

Hester (57 catches in 2009), Knox (51 in 2010) and Williams and Knox (37 apiece in 2011) led the receiving corps in receptions in those three seasons. The Packers have had five receivers with at least 67 catches in that span.

Really, it was criminal. The Bears gave up Kyle Orton, first-round picks in 2009 and 2010 and a third-round pick in 2009 to get Cutler from Denver, yet never bothered to get him a real receiver. It's almost beyond belief to think the Packers' Aaron Rodgers threw 38 touchdown passes to his receivers last season while Bears quarterbacks threw a combined 36 to their receivers over the last three seasons combined. Jordy Nelson had 15 touchdown catches by himself last season. All of the Bears' receivers combined for nine, led by Sanzenbacher's three.

With that, it's little wonder why Cutler is 1-5 in six starts against Green Bay, with 56.9 percent accuracy, seven touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

When the Packers and Bears meet again on Sunday, Green Bay's secondary will face a much bigger challenge — and we do mean big. Hester, Bennett and Sanzenbacher are joined by productive veteran Brandon Marshall and rookie Alshon Jeffrey. Marshall is 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds while Jeffrey, a second-round pick out of South Carolina, is 6-foot-3 and 216 pounds.

The addition of Marshall, a three-time Pro Bowler, came at the bargain price of a pair of third-round picks. The trade energized the team and Cutler. When they were together in Denver, Marshall caught 102 passes for seven touchdowns in 2007 and 104 passes for six touchdowns in 2008.

"He adds another dimension to our offense," defensive end Julius Peppers said. "The deep ball is there. Not only that, he has pretty good, sure hands. So, he takes pressure off the other receivers to get open. And, you know, there's just excitement around him being here. All of those things combined give us a big boost on that side of the ball."

With Marshall a true No. 1, Jeffrey adding another big target and Bennett adept at his role in the slot, Hester and Sanzenbacher have become complementary pieces, as they should be, rather than forced into major roles.

"I think it's pretty early," Bears coach Lovie Smith said during a conference call when asked if this is the team's best receiver group since taking over in 2004. "We're talking about the second game of the season. We have weapons, though. You just look at what guys have done in the past. If we all play the way we're capable of playing, we can have a pretty potent passing attack."

It was potent against the Colts, with the Bears rolling to a 41-21 win. While it should be noted Indianapolis fielded the worst team in football last season, Cutler had a big day — his pick-six notwithstanding. He completed 21-of-35 passes for 333 yards, with two touchdowns, an interception and a passer rating of 98.9. The receivers, so irrelevant the past three seasons, combined for 17 receptions. Marshall caught nine passes for 119 yards and a touchdown — he was targeted a whopping 15 times. Jeffrey caught three balls for 80 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown.

"They definitely have better personnel, especially on the perimeter," said cornerback Tramon Williams, who likely will shadow Marshall for much of the night. "Jay has confidence in those guys and is definitely going to give those guys a chance to go get the ball."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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