The main goal of the Green Bay Packers' secondary on Thursday night was to make sure Brandon Marshall did not beat them. They were willing to take their chances with the rest of the Chicago Bears' receiving corps but Marshall was not going to punish him like he did to Indianapolis in Week 1.
The Colts chose to man up on Marshall throughout that first contest, without safety help over the top. That strategy resulted in nine catches for 119 yards and one touchdown for Marshall, who singlehandedly carried Chicago's aerial attack en route to a 41-21 victory.
Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers took note and decided that scenario would not play out on Lambeau Field in Week 2. To that end, Capers bracketed Marshall on almost every play, using CB Tramon Williams underneath and S Morgan Burnett over the top.
Because Marshall had two guys hovering around him on every play, there was little room for Jay Cutler to find his favorite target. Instead, Cutler was forced to spread the ball around. This resulted in a four-interception performance, with two by Williams on passes where Cutler had no other choice but to throw it up to Marshall.
The Packers also had seven sacks, yet three of those can be considered coverage sacks. Particularly in the second half, Chicago receivers could not find a way to get open. Marshall was commanding double teams, which left Earl Bennett, Alshon Jeffery and Devin Hester plenty of opportunities to take advantage of one-on-one matchups.
In addition, when the Packers dropped into zone coverage, the wideouts could not consistently find the open holes. Against the worst secondary in the league, the Bears ended Thursday's game with just 126 yards through the air, and Cutler suffering a complete meltdown.
Everyone deserves a piece of the blame – Cutler made a lot of poor decisions, the offensive line was sieve for most of the night and coordinator Mike Tice was outcoached – yet the team's dismal performance through the air was very much the fault of the club's other wideouts as well.
Jeffery, Bennett and Hester, and to a lesser extent TE Kellen Davis, failed repeatedly to give Cutler an open target as a second option. Let's break this down using coaches tape.
Here you see what the Packers did repeatedly in passing situations. Marshall is split left to the top of the play, with Williams lines up a few yards across from him. Just before the snap, Burnett will sprint out to his right, over the top of Marshall.
Despite Williams lining up in Marshall's face, he does not press him. Instead, he allows the receiver a free release and uses a trail technique. Marshall is too big and too strong to be pressed consistently and the Packers knew this. To combat this, they allow him to get off the line without a bump, thus not risking Williams getting burned. In this way, Williams can just sit in the receiver's hip pocket and take away anything underneath, as he knows he has safety help over the top.
As you can see, the other pass catchers all have one-on-one coverage, yet not a single receiver can create separation from his defender. Green Bay has every Bears wideout swallowed up, forcing Cutler to attempt a dump off to Forte, which falls incomplete.
The Bears will release five pass catchers on this play, with Marshall at the bottom of the screen. The Packers will rush just three and drop eight players into three-deep zone coverage.
Here you see three defenders bracketing Marshall, yet Chicago's other pass catchers in the deep third are clustered together, making it easy for Green Bay to swarm that zone. Cutler has no one to throw to and is forced to shuffle out of the pocket.
Bennett finally finds a little space in the deep middle and Cutler fires a bullet his way, just as he's taking a hit. Yet the Packers have three players close enough to Bennett to make a play.
Charles Woodson comes in from behind Bennett and cuts in front of the receiver, making the interception.
On Thursday, the Packers established a blueprint for defending Chicago's passing attack, of which the rest of Chicago's remaining opponents surely took notice. Other teams will try to duplicate Green Bay's strategy by bracketing Marshall.
Yet this scheme only works if the remaining wideouts fail to get open. Bennett is a great route runner with outstanding hands, Jeffery is a big-bodied wideout who should be able to physically dominate smaller cornerbacks, and no one can match Hester's speed and quickness.
On any play when the opposing defense is focusing two players on Marshall, there's no reason one of Chicago's other pass catchers can't get open. It is a talented group that has to stop relying on Marshall to do the heavy lifting. He can't carry the entire passing attack on his back week in and week out. Going forward, this group has to step up, or the Bears' passing attack will fight an uphill battle all season.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.