The Chicago Bears’ offense ranks 30th in the National Football League and is last in passing offense. The defense has returned almost as many interceptions for touchdowns (seven) as the running game has produced (nine).
And then there’s Brandon Marshall.
Entering Sunday’s matchup with the Seahawks at Soldier Field, the Bears’ big free-agent acquisition – literally, as Marshall is 6 feet 4 and weighs 230 pounds – has exceeded even the lofty expectations that come with a player who had three seasons with 100-plus receptions and five with 1,000-plus receiving yards in his first six years in the league.
“When you bring a guy in to be your (No.) 1 receiver, you have big expectations for him and we had that,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said Wednesday during a conference-call interview. “So we’re expecting that, coming in we were hoping that, but we’ve gotten even more than you could have hoped.
“He’s a competitive, tough football player. He’s what we are as a football team.”
The numbers Marshall is producing after being reunited with quarterback Jay Cutler and QB coach Jeremy Bates are impressive: 81 catches for 1,017 yards and eight touchdowns. But they’re staggering when you consider that 42 percent of the Bears’ completed passes, 46 percent of their 2,203 passing yards and 57 percent of their TD catches have come from Marshall. And he also leads the league with 27 third-down receptions.
But perhaps the most off-the-charts stat is that in the Bears’ 8-3 start Marshall has been targeted 124 times, or 38 percent of their pass attempts.
Not surprisingly, the teams that have been able to limit Marshall are the teams that have beaten the Bears. He had two catches for 24 yards, on five targets, in a Week 2 loss to the Green Bay Packers. He had two catches for 21 yards, on four targets, in a Week 11 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
For the Seahawks, that task of trying to contain Marshall will fall primarily to the tandem of
“He’s going to be a great matchup,” said Sherman, who leads the Seahawks in interceptions (four) and passes defensed (15). “It’s fun to watch him on tape. They do a variety of things. He has a great (move) where he stutters and he just kind of comes up and then he’s just going. And it’s worked on just about everybody. But it’s going to be fun.”
The Seahawks have faced other highly targeted receivers with mix results, and reverse outcomes. They limited Calvin Johnson to three catches for 48 yards in a Week 8 loss to the Lions in Detroit. They also allowed Wes Welker to catch 10 passes for 138 yards in a Week 6 victory over the New England Patriots at CenturyLink Field.
But of the other go-to receivers the Seahawks have faced, none receives the percentage of targets that Marshall does.
“Nobody’s going to their go-to guy more than Cutler,” said Sherman, pointing out that the next-most targeted receiver among the Bears has 40.
Marshall also likes the way Sherman and Browner play, and is looking forward to the matchup, as well.
“I love their attitude and approach to the game, that’s No. 1,” Marshall said. “I think any successful professional athlete has to have a confidence about themselves and a swagger, and those guys have it. I’m impressed about their swagger, and they present some challenges just because of that.
“I’m excited about the matchup and this opportunity to compete against them.”
Marshall flirted with joining the Seahawks in 2010, when he became a free agent after playing his first four seasons with the Denver Broncos. But he opted to sign with the Miami Dolphins.
“I was making my rounds to the teams that showed any interest in me,” Marshall said. “Seattle seemed like it was a place that I could fit, but in the end we just couldn’t work it out. I guess it wasn’t the best fit for me or them.”
Marshall was traded to the Bears in March, where he slipped into a familiar comfort zone because of Cutler and Bates – who had been his quarterback and offensive coordinator while with the Broncos. As Marshall tells it, they have become the odd couple, plus one.
“Is anybody in the room married?” Marshall said during a conference-call interview when asked about his relationship with Cutler. “OK, well you guys understand how Jay and I’s relationship is.”
As the laughter subsided, Marshall added, “And I’m being serious. It’s just like a marriage. There are good times and there are hard times. We just try to fight our way through the hard times, and try to enjoy the good ones.”
Where does Bates fit? Right in the middle.
“He’s the piece that puts it all together,” Marshall said. “Like I said, it’s like a marriage. Sometimes he sits between us and I have to say, ‘Tell Jay this because I’m not talking to him.’ And there are a lot of times when Jay says, ‘I’m not talking to him Jeremy, so you tell him I said this.’ And we’re all on the same bench.”
Yes, that’s the same Jeremy Bates who was the Seahawks’ offensive coordinator in 2009. And the Bears’ offensive coordinator is Mike Tice, who played tight end for the Seahawks from 1981-88 and again in 1990-91.
“He’s the man,” Marshall said of Tice. “I love his leadership. I love how he brings it all together. As an offensive coordinator, not only do you have to draw up plays and call plays, but you have to manage all of the egos, and all the guys, and getting your playmakers the ball. And I think he does a great job at that in doing it in a way where guys respect him and love to play for him.”
The Seahawks’ goal, of course, is to disrupt this Windy City love fest that has broken out since Marshall’s arrival.