Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall set numerous franchise receiving records last year. By most accounts, he had the greatest season (118 catches, 1,508 yards, 11 TDs) of any receiver in the history of the organization.
Yet against the Green Bay Packers, Marshall struggled. In two contests against the Packers in 2012, he combined for just eight catches, 81 yards and 1 TD. In his defense, Marshall has repeatedly pointed out Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers' penchant for double and triple-teaming Chicago's top receiver on nearly every snap.
"Tramon [Williams], he was pretty much following me a little bit with help over the top," Marshall told Green Bay media yesterday.
When asked about Williams' game and why he's tough to play against, Marshall was not complimentary.
"Well, he may know my game, but I don't know his because I don't see him one-on-one, I see two guys," Marshall said. "I don't know what his game is."
Double teams have been par for the course for Marshall, arguably the most consistently productive receiver in the league the past seven years. Yet by rolling a safety over the top of Marshall in bracket coverage, the Packers have had more success shutting him down than most.
"For me, it never changes," said Marshall. "I can watch a ton of film throughout the week and whatever team we're facing they're probably going to do something different to take me out of the game. I guess that comes with success. I'm expecting them to definitely do something to take me out of the game and if that's the case, we have guys who can do some damage. Alshon Jeffery is actually leading us in receiving yards. That says a lot there. And Martellus Bennett, he's a beast. If they're going to take me out, we definitely have guys that can beat them."
Jeffery has 561 receiving yards this year, which is 21 more than Marshall's 540. Jeffery has shown top-tier playmaking ability this year but he's also been inconsistent. Against Washington two weeks ago, Jeffery's bobbled reception led to a pick-six for the Redskins.
The potential is there though. He's had 100 yards or more receiving in three of the past four weeks, which includes his record-breaking 218-yard performance in Week 5. If Chicago's passing attack is going to weather a potential down game by Marshall and still keep pace with the Packers' high-powered offense, Jeffery has to have another monster game.
"We're not gearing every play to one guy or one type of play," Marc Trestman said this week. "We are spreading the ball around in terms of our primary target play by play and certainly Brandon has his share or more than his share. But I never really go into it thinking that they're going to stop us all. If they're taking one guy away with two, then somebody's open with single coverage somewhere and it's our job within the design of the play and from the standpoint of our reads to be able to get to that guy."
Helping the passing attack will be the play of Chicago's offensive line, which has allowed just 11 sacks this season, the second fewest in the NFL. And the Packers are without Clay Matthews due to a broken thumb. Even with Jay Cutler sidelined, if the Bears' front five keeps Josh McCown clean, he should have no problem distributing the ball to the open man.
"We're not going to ask Josh to carry the weight of the offense on his shoulders," said Trestman. "We've got good players at skill level positions. We've got a line that is evolving and getting better and we feel confident we should be able to go out and move the football."
If Jeffery explodes on Monday Night, and Martellus Bennett has success between the seams, Capers will have to re-think his strategy of doubling Marshall. And when you give one of the best receivers in the game one-on-one coverage, good things usually happen. In their last three games, the Packers have held opposing No. 1 receivers to just four total catches (on 13 targets) for 41 yards. If Jeffery detracts attention away from Marshall, Chicago's No. 1 wideout could triple those numbers.
And if Capers is stubborn and keeps bracket coverage on Marshall, Jeffery must make them pay. If that happens, and the defense can force multiple turnovers, the Bears will have a chance of outscoring the Packers.
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.