The Chicago Bears offense has been in shambles for most of the season. The unit has underachieved across the board, which has led to the team’ 3-6 record.
The passing attack has been the most disappointing aspect of the team. The unit has dropped from fifth in the league last year to 12th this year, with the vast majority of that production coming in garbage time the past two weeks.
Last season, the offense had balance. This year, it’s been anything but balanced. At different points throughout the season, Brandon Marshall has disappeared, Matt Forte has been ignored and Martellus Bennett has been eliminated.
The same goes for receiver Alshon Jeffery, who is averaging just four catches for 42 yards in the past three games. Through nine contests, he has just two 100-yard games – he had five 100-yard games last year, including two outings of more than 200 yards – and he’s on pace for 78 catches and 1,112 yards (down from 89 catches for 1,421 yards in 2013).
Jeffery is a crucial piece of the puzzle. He’s one of the best downfield playmakers in the game, one who made numerous highlight-reel catches last season en route to his first Pro Bowl. When he’s underutilized, the offense cannot reach its potential.
“We've got to find ways to get him the ball a little bit more and get him going,” Jay Cutler said this week. “He's kind of been a bit lost the last couple of games. We haven't utilized him as much as we want to. He's still an unbelievable receiver and hard to cover.”
Jeffery is averaging a career-low 14.2 yards per catch, which shows how inconsistent he and Cutler have been connecting on passes down the field.
“I'm all for it. I'm all for him having that production and going up and getting those balls,” offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. “We're going to continue to throw those balls to him and allow him that chance to get it.”
Jeffery should get plenty of one-on-one opportunities on Sunday against Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who has allowed five touchdowns this season. It could be the perfect opportunity for Jeffery to break out of his slump.
“Success will breed success and it doesn't take more than one play,” Kromer said. “One play will do it and you feel good about it. What we have to do is we have to have a good play, then a good drive, then a touchdown drive, then do it again.”
Throughout his short career, Jeffery has continually come through with big plays. Whenever the Bears needed a big chunk of yards, it was Jeffery they could depend on to bail out the offense on a 50/50 deep ball.
His ability to complement Brandon Marshall, one of the best possession receivers in the game, is what made Chicago’s passing attack nearly unstoppable last season. Marshall had his breakout game last week (8 catches, 113 yards, 1 TD), now it’s Jeffery’s turn.
If the Bears have any hope of salvaging this season, the passing attack must put the team on its shoulders. That includes Jeffery, who is more than capable of making that one big play to put the offense back on track.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.