In 2014, Chicago Bears receivers Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall entered the season nursing substantial injuries. They didn't miss any games but Marshall and Jeffery were nowhere near healthy the first month of the season.
In response, tight end Martellus Bennett put the offense in a backpack and carried the passing attack on his back. In the first four games last season, Bennett tallied 29 catches, 295 yards and 4 touchdowns.
The Bears again entered this season with a banged up receiving corps, with Jeffery, Eddie Royal and Kevin White all missing time. Yet this time around, Bennett hasn't been able to pick up the slack. Through seven games, he's caught just 37 passes for 324 yards and 2 TDs.
As the No. 1 target in 2014, Bennett averaged 7 receptions, 73 yards and 0.75 TDs per game. As the top target this year, he's averaging 5 catches, 46 yards and 0.28 TDs per contest.
That's a significant drop-off in production and one of the many reasons the Bears have the NFL's 23rd-ranked passing offense.
It would be fair to assume opposing defenses are paying more attention to Bennett coming off a 90-catch, 916-yard campaign. That's true but only to an extent. Teams are more aware of him but they aren't consistently double-teaming him or rolling safety help to his side of the field.
And it's surely not for a lack of opportunities, as his 57 targets are 20 more than any other player on the team and 3rd most in the league among tight ends.
So why can't Bennett be the dominant force he was in the first half last season?
I broke down All-22 film to find some answers.
Bennett is lined up as the front option in a bunch formation. He'll run a drag pattern across the field against the middle linebacker in man coverage.
Here we see LB Tahir Whitehead man up on Bennett, who is about to cross the defender's face.
This is perfect position for Bennett as Jay Cutler releases the ball. The linebacker is in his hip pocket but there are no other defenders around and Bennett has a step.
Cutler leads the play and puts the pass out of reach of Whitehead. At this frame, the ball is hitting Bennett in both hands.
Whitehead puts a body on Bennett and the ball flies out. The pass falls incomplete.
Analysis: Here is the first in what we'll see is a pattern with Bennett and his inability to make catches under duress. Whitehead makes a nice play on the ball here but the pass is perfect, where only Bennett can make the catch. Yet when the defender puts a body on him, Bennett can't secure the touchdown.
On this snap, Bennett will release up the right hash. He'll be covered man-to-man by Chiefs safety Ron Harper.
At about 10 yards, Bennett will do a quick curl and go.
As he releases from the double move, he has inside position. Cutler again puts the ball where it needs to be, to the inside of his tight end and away from the defender. Note the size advantage Bennett has over Parker.
Bennett cannot shield the defender and Parker reaches in front of him, knocking the pass away.
Analysis: Bennett is six inches taller than Parker and outweighs him by nearly 70 pounds, yet the much smaller safety was able to easily work around him and knock the ball away. Bennett is far too big and far too strong to allow this play to happen. Instead of attacking the ball, he waits for it, which allows Parker to finish a far-too-easy pass breakup.
On this snap, Bennett runs a drag route at five yards. He'll be covered 1-on-1 by safety Eric Barry.
As the pass hits his hands, Bennett loses his balance and his body sinks downward.
Barry comes over the top and knocks the pass away as Bennett falls to the ground.
Analysis: Again we see a much smaller defender out-muscle Bennett at the point of attack. Instead of getting big and high-pointing the pass, Bennett waits for it and then immediately falls off balance. All Barry has to do is get a hand in and the ball, as well as Bennett, tumbles to the ground.
Bennett here runs a wheel route out of the slot against the strong safety.
As Bennett turns up-field, he gets inside position on Parker. There is no help over the top, as the free safety is stuck in the middle of the field.
The pass is perfect and hits Bennett in the chest. Yet notice the defender, who attacks Bennett as soon as the ball gets there.
Parker puts a body on Bennett and the pass falls incomplete.
Analysis: This is the fourth play in a row we've seen Bennett lose a contested throw. This is the biggest weakness in his game right now. Bennett has been dangerous against zone sets and has gashed defenses when he's found open room down the field. But against man coverage, he rarely wins.
Bennett will run a deep option run, cutting toward the sideline at 12 yards against inside linebacker Curtis Lofton.
At 10 yards, Bennett leverages Lofton inside, leaning on the defender and shifting his weight toward the middle of the field.
Bennett cuts outside and immediately creates five yards of separation. He's wide open for the 13-yard completion.
Analysis: Here we finally see Bennett use his size to manipulate the linebacker and create room. He did this consistently last season but these type of plays have been far too sporadic this year.
This is a bubble screen to Bennett, who will cut inside of the two slot receivers, both of whom will sprint out in front of the play to block.
As Bennett makes the catch, notice the receivers blocking for him, as well as right tackle Kyle Long, who has the athleticism to clear the right edge and pick up a defender at the second level.
Bennett gets five good blocks and has a wide lane through which he gains 11 yards.
Analysis: Coordinator Adam Gase ran four of these screens against the Raiders and Bennett was successful nearly every time. Getting the ball in his hands in space, where Bennett is one of the toughest players to bring down, is a winning formula. Gase needs to find more ways create room for Bennett, who is a YAC machine.