The Bears acquired WR Brandon Marshall this past offseason, thinking he was the missing link in a passing game that needed a big-time WR to complement the strong arm and gunslinging mentality of QB Jay Cutler. Through Marshall’s first 12 games in the Windy City, the Bears thinking is right on.
Marshall ranks 2nd in the NFL with 91 receptions and 1,182 yards, and he’s on pace to break the Bears single-season record for receptions and yards. No other Bears player has more than 30 receptions, and Marshall has been targeted by Cutler 95 more times than the next Bears receiver. Against the Vikings in Week 12, Marshall was targeted by Cutler 17 times and he came away with 12 receptions for 92 yards. While he didn’t get into the end zone against the Vikings, he was still a crucial factor in the game. Several times the Vikings had Chicago in unfavorable 3rd-down spots, and several times Marshall bailed the Bears out with a great grab in traffic or a few extra yards after the catch.
Adding to the frustration of Marshall’s production that day was the fact that often times he was guarded to near perfection by Vikings DBs, but he still came away with the catch. Cutler was able to fit the ball into tight windows, and even when a Vikings defender was in position to make a play, Marshall was able to make the better play.
So, what can the Vikings rely on to slow down the Cutler-to-Marshall tandem on Sunday at Mall of America Field? Let’s take a closer look at three things that should work…
Pressure the passer
Perhaps the best way for the Vikings to keep Marshall in check is to disrupt the man charged with delivering the ball to the tall, fast pass-catcher – Cutler. To do that, the Vikings must re-energize their pass rush to take advantage of a Bear defensive line that is missing starters and has dealt with inconsistent play. As Leslie Frazier explained on Wednesday while meeting with reporters, pressuring the passer isn’t all about sacks. Even if a defender doesn’t register a sack, hitting the QB and disrupting his timing can be just as good.
“They’ve changed their philosophy offensively to cut down on the sacks. They realized what their problems were and they made a smart move. We have to offset that with some of the things we’re going to try to do,” Frazier explained. “We may not get the sacks, because of what they’re doing now with the short passing game, but we have to hit that quarterback. We have to find a way to hit him and make him aware that our defense is on the field. Might not get the sack numbers, but we have to find a way to hit him.”
The ball will bounce your way
It’s important for a defense to maintain its aggressiveness. But it’s also important for a defense to trust itself and know that if they keep doing the right thing at the right time, the ball will eventually bounce the right way. It actually happened that way for the Vikings secondary in Soldier Field a couple weeks ago. Yes, Marshall kept finding ways to make plays even though AJ Jefferson, Josh Robinson and Antoine Winfield were constantly in the right place at the right time. Finally, though, the Vikings caught a break when one of Cutler’s passes to Marshall was tipped and wound up in the hands of Winfield.
The Vikings finished last season with a total of 64 passes defensed. This season through 12 games, they’ve already surpassed that total by 14 – they have 78 passes defensed heading into Sunday’s game. If the Vikings continue being sound in coverage, and especially if the Vikings can put pressure on Cutler while he’s in the pocket, the ball will bounce the Vikings way eventually.
More than most other teams in the NFL, the Vikings have proven that the play isn’t over once an opposing runner breaks through the line of scrimmage or an opposing receiver secures a catch. The Vikings rank tied for 6th in the NFL with 27 forced fumbles and 3rd in the NFL with 23 fumble recoveries dating back to the start of the 2011 season. So even once Marshall hauls in a pass from Cutler, watch for Vikings DBs to try and strip the ball from the receiver as he’s trying to gain extra yardage.
Tags: A.J. Jefferson, Antoine Wiinfield, Josh Robinson, Leslie Frazier
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