Wednesday, April 4, 2012

What Does Brandon Marshall do for the Bears?

Warning folks, I’m talking X’s and O’s, so this is going to be a long one:

I realize I haven’t spent much time lately discussing Brandon Marshall, other than to react with glee to the trade and to give my take on the alleged punching incident. As I suspected, that whole mess has blown over so there’s very little left to get in the way of unadulterated enthusiasm about the potential of the Bears offense in 2012 with Brandon Marshall in the lineup.

So what exactly does Brandon Marshall do for the Bears offense beyond the vague notion of giving them “a true no.1 receiver?” I was listening to someone on the score a few weeks ago (can’t remember if it was Mike Klis, the bitter sumbitch from Denver who still takes potshots at Brandon Marshall and Jay Cutler, or if it was some bitter sumbitch from Miami) who tried to belittle Marshall as a possession receiver whose main role was to be the “guy who can take the 8 yard hitch.”

I’m not going to actually argue with classifying Marshall as more of a possession receiver than a true deep threat, but I’m certainly going to take exception to the idea that this means his job is to catch passes on the wrong side of the first down marker. The truth is, with a career average of 12.6, Marshall’s not a game-breaking deep threat. Who cares? The Bears have a guy in Devin Hester who can be a deep threat, and if Johnny Knox ever comes back they have two of them. The problem with this offense for years hasn’t been the lack of a deep threat, it’s the lack of an “X” receiver.

There are two approaches to throwing the ball deep in an NFL offense. You can take the Coryell approach, like our buddy Mike Martz, and take deep drops and force the ball downfield in huge chunks. The Bears had the speed to execute that offense but, as we all know, they lacked the protection. The approach most effective NFL offenses take is a more organic one, where you work the ball in the short and intermediate passing game and wait for openings to appear downfield. The Saints and Packers come to mind as two teams that beat the living hell out of teams with intermediate routes before going downfield the second the safeties cheat. This is all an over-simplified explanation of things, but bear with me.

The last few years the Bears have spent the first half of the season trying to run the Mike Martz offense, gaining big chunks through deep tosses until the beating Jay Cutler took forced them to switch to a hodgepodge approach that combined shorter throws with more protection and fewer receivers on the few deep balls they attempted (the 48 yard throw from Cutler to Hester in the first Vikings game had just 2 receivers on the pattern). They weren’t able to really work defenses from sideline to sideline in order to stretch the field vertically later on because neither Johnny Knox or Devin Hester was the big, consistent route runner you need to beat a team with 15-25 yard routes, while Earl Bennett limited speed makes him more of an underneath guy. When you don’t have someone to fear in that intermediate distance of 15-25 yards, it’s easy to roll a safety over to cover Knox and Hester deep or to squat on shorter throws.

To Martz’s credit, he understood this and brought in Roy Williams to run the deep dig and other routes that required a bigger body in the middle of the field. Of course, Martz is also the fucking idiot that thought Roy Williams of all people could hold onto the ball and take a hit.

Brandon Marshall can be that guy. He greatly expands the route tree the Bears can use in their offense by giving Jay Cutler a receiver that frequently makes teams pay in the intermediate passing game. In 2008, when Cutler threw for over 4500 yards and Marshall had over 1200 yards receiving, their longest connection was 47 yards. That’s not a bad thing. It’s where most of the NFL’s best passers do their damage.

With Marshall undoubtedly drawing the attention of a safety, and a hopefully healthy year from the BBE (think of Earl as the Eddie Royal of this offense), Hester (or the potential rookie wide receiver the team may draft) might become more than a gimmick and a guy who can exploit isolated corners with his speed. Free from the burden of mastering the precise routes and the discipline required of a #1 receiver, Hester might become a much more effective part of the offense than he’s ever really been before.

So what does the acquisition of Brandon Marshall do for the Bears? It makes them better. Obviously. I don’t even get why you’re asking the question. Morons.