Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall saw the potential of his pass-catching teammate Alshon Jeffery last season. The second-year wideout flashed serious playmaking ability but injuries forced him to miss six games and never allowed him to find a rhythm.
As a result, Marshall invited Jeffery to work out with him in Florida this offseason. That extra work has helped Jeffery stay healthy and active in Marc Trestman's offense. Through nine games, Jeffery has caught 47 passes for 735 yards and 3 TDs, while Marshall has 60 catches for 786 yards and 8 TDs. Their combined 1,521 yards is the most by a wide receiver duo in the league, ahead of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker in Denver (1,514), DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper in Philadelphia (1,458), and A.J. Green and Marvin Jones in Cincinnati (1,450).
"Numbers don't lie," Marshall said this week. "We're definitely the No. 1 tandem in the league right now, that's something I take a lot of pride in."
Marshall posted eye-popping number last season (118 catches, 1,508 yards, 12 TDs) but the offense struggled and the passing game finished 29th in the league. With the emergence of Jeffery, the offense has developed into a Top 10 unit in the league, and Marshall is still getting his – he's on pace for 106 catches this year.
"Before I was trying to be the best wide receiver in the league, now my sole focus is on building this dynamic tandem that's hard to stop," said Marshall. "I believe it really makes the team better, it's better for our offense, and if they're going to double me Alshon's going to get one-on-one, or Martellus [Bennett], or vice versa. Now you're starting to see teams really play us one-on-one and head up, and it just opens up everything across the board."
Marshall said opposing teams are now hesitant to roll safety help over the top due to the fear of Jeffery beating them on the other side of the field. That has given Marshall the one-on-one opportunities he's never before had in his career.
"These past few games we're starting to see teams really just playing us straight up. Less doubles, less brackets. And now we're starting to see teams really start to roll over Alshon's way, so its pretty cool to see, and it makes my job a lot easier. A couple of weeks ago they were just trying to take me out of the game, and it was frustrating, but now, now that Alshon's stepping up and really balling, it's making it easier for me on my side, it's making it easier for Matt [Forte] and the running game and Martellus is helping us out a bunch. That's one of the reasons why it was important for us to get together this offseason, to really work on him staying healthy, him staying strong, and fine-tuning the little things. It's a testament to his preparation this offseason."
Marshall is on pace to finish the season with 1,397 yards, while Jeffery is on pace for 1,306 receiving yards. The Bears haven't had two receivers with 1,000 yards in the same season since Jeff Graham (1,301) and Curtis Conway (1,037) in 1995. The projected combined total of Marshall and Jeffery (2,703 yards) would be the largest of any receiver tandem in the history of the franchise.
"Alshon, man, he's just a special kid," Marshall said. "You know, you're never going to arrive, you know I'm in Year 8, been to a few Pro Bowls, put up some good numbers, but I'm still learning and getting better. Where I was in Week 1 is totally different, it's night and day from where I am today. I feel more explosive, I feel like I'm peaking at the right time."
Bears fans are witnessing the greatest receiver performance in the 94-year history of the organization. With injuries on defense and an inconsistent run game, the passing game will bear the burden of success this season. If Marshall and Jeffery continue at their current pace, they may just carry the team into the playoffs. Either way, Bears fans are witnessing history in the making.
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.