Tight Ends Separate Offenses

While Martellus Bennett is off to a huge start, the Packers have got almost nothing from their tight ends.

Chicago Bears tight end Martellus Bennett has 20 receptions for 161 yards and four touchdowns.

The Green Bay Packers’ tight ends have combined for eight receptions, 77 yards and one touchdown – with all of that production from Andrew Quarless.

Of the problems plaguing the Packers’ offense, tight end is front and center. With Jermichael Finley’s career on hold, at the very least, due to last season’s neck injury, the slow progress from third-round rookie Richard Rodgers and the disappearance of athletic Brandon Bostick, the Packers have gotten almost no contributions whatsoever from any tight end other than Quarless. Only three teams have fewer receptions from their tight ends, with Atlanta, Detroit and Seattle having seven apiece. Only Atlanta and Houston have fewer receiving yards from their tight ends.

“We just need to find ways to get them open, and we’ll go through our progressions and look for them when they’re open,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said on Wednesday. “But, you know, we've had to use them in protection more than we've wanted to the first three weeks. So, we're going to try and sure up the protection and trust those five guys (offensive linemen) and let those tight ends get on their routes and run some routes.”

The production at tight end is one reason why the Bears are 2-1 and the Packers are 1-2. Even with an ankle injury limiting star receiver Brandon Marshall to only 14 receptions for 125 yards, the Bears have scored 75 points in three games because Bennett has been such a weapon. Bennett, who was suspended by the team for a training camp fight, has caught 80.0 percent of passes thrown his way and forced five missed tackles – second-most among tight ends, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

“He’s came along really nicely for us, from last year to this year,” Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said in a conference call on Wednesday. “He has done a great job of blocking and I think he is a really hard cover for linebackers and safeties. He is such a big target. I am happy to see us using him a lot more in a lot more different, versatile roles for him.

“Anytime you got a guy who can work the middle of the field like that and get open, and block for you and pass protect, he kind of does the whole gamut for us.”

As Detroit showed last week, if a defense can take away receiver Jordy Nelson, the Packers’ passing game has some limitations. And that is one factor in Green Bay having scored only 54 points. Defenses facing the Bears, on the other hand, have the major challenge of trying to stop the 6-foot-6 Bennett while focusing on Marshall (6-foot-4) and fellow receiver Alshon Jeffery (6-foot-3). Bennett is the first Bears player with a touchdown in three consecutive games since 1985.

“I think that anytime you have a receiver (or) tight end who draws the attention of the defense, it certainly creates a little more balance on how teams are going to defend you. And Martellus gives us that,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said in his conference call. “We know that defensively teams have to pay attention to him and give him the respect he deserves, just like the other guys in the receiving corps. It certainly helps us that we have him, a guy his size that we can move around and do different things with.”

That means potential headaches for Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers. With Bennett, Marshall, Jeffery and running back Matt Forte, the Bears have about as much firepower as any offense in the NFL. Bennett ranks second among NFL tight ends in receptions and touchdowns and 10th in yardage.

“The thing about it is he can line up in the core, he can play in the core, but he’s also they’ll split him out a lot, so he’ll be in the wide receiver position a lot,” Capers said. “What happens is you aren’t sure whether he’s going to be a core receiver or line up in a wide receiver’s position. He can do a lot of the things a wide receiver can do. He’s good running the vertical routes, he can make people miss and he’s certainly a big target. They’ve got a number of big targets, especially getting down to the red zone, where they’re going to throw it up and try to win the jump ball against you.”

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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