Against the San Diego Chargers last week, Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler attempted five passes, all of them to Brandon Marshall. He completed four of those attempts, which included a touchdown, yet most have dwelled on the one incompletion, a pass that was intercepted after Cutler forced it to Marshall in double coverage.
In a flash, shades of the 2012 offense came flooding back to Bears analysts and fans. They memory of Marshall catching more passes than any Chicago player before him, yet the passing offense finishing as one of the worst in the league, stirred everyone into a frenzy.
"All good quarterbacks think they can make throws that they might not be able to make," coordinator Aaron Kromer said today. "They're just like a lineman: they step with the wrong foot. They block at the wrong angle. A quarterback throws it to the wrong guy at times when he's reading his reads."
There's no doubting Marshall's ability as a receiver. Most NFL quarterbacks would favor a wideout who is nearly unstoppable in 1-on-1 coverage. The problem is that Marshall had a player on each hip when Cutler threw his interception.
"You guys are hitting the panic button after two preseason games and 30 plays. We've run 30. Lot of runs," Cutler said. "Yeah, we're going to spread it around. We can't just throw to Brandon and give the ball to Matt. We've got to figure out ways to get other guys involved. We had plays up, some of them worked, some of them got checked out of. So, it is just the way it goes."
Still, it was a pretty horrible throw to Marshall, right?
"In the last game, did he make a misread on a couple of them? Yeah," said Kromer. "Did the linemen block the wrong angle a couple of times? Yeah. Did the running back hit the wrong hole a couple of times? Yeah. But that's football. It's an imperfect game. We're trying to do the best we can with making the read and throwing it."
Beyond that one play, Cutler had a solid game. Marshall was the correct read on the other four throws, so it's hard to fault him when the offense moves the ball and puts points on the board.
"If the defense gives us Brandon Marshall, then we'll throw it to him. If they don't, then we won't throw it to him," Kromer said. "If they're open, we'll throw him the ball. If the coverage dictates, we'll throw them the ball. If the play dictates, we'll throw them the ball. We'll ask them to block on other plays.
"Really, what we're trying to do is function as an offense. It has nothing to do with who is who. It has to do with, what is our offense asking us to do? We'll call a play that Marshall is the primary on one and that Martellus Bennett is the primary on the next. If that's covered by coverage, then he'll throw it to somebody else. And that's football."
It's obvious the offense is a work in progress, and that many of Cutler's old habits still linger, but such would be the case with any quarterback entering his eighth NFL season. Considering he's working under his fourth coordinator, and playbook, in the past five seasons, growing pains should be expected.
In reality, the Bears have too many weapons on offense for Cutler to ignore. When the games matter, he'll find his playmakers if they are open. I've been touting one of those weapons, receiver Alshon Jeffery, since training camp started as a player on the verge of a serious breakout campaign. Apparently, Cutler agrees.
"Alshon, I think, has probably had the best camp out of everybody on offense," said Cutler. "He's done a great job this offseason of getting better, getting physically stronger and gaining my trust. I love throwing it to him."
Getting tight end Martellus Bennett, the club's big offseason acquisition, involved should also be a priority against the Oakland Raiders on Friday night.
"I'm always hoping to get a couple targets every week," Bennett said. "I haven't played a full quarter of football yet. I'll probably play two and half quarters, so I still got two quarters before it's a whole game. Maybe I'll have a good second half."
There are still plenty of things to polish up but there have been a lot of positive signs, particularly in the run game last week, that indicate an offense on the rise. It's troubling to see Cutler force-feed balls to Marshall, even though his mouth is full, but it's also mid-August. It'll get better.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.