Earl Bennett wasn’t a big part of the action against the Cincinnati Bengals, but the change from last year to this one already was apparent.
The “new” offense had four receivers targeted six or more times (Brandon Marshall 10, Alshon Jeffery eight, Matt Forte six and Martellus Bennett six). That is something that never happened in all of 2012 with Jay Cutler making delivery decisions for an entire game. The Bears did achieve that degree of diversification in the second Minnesota game last year. But that was only with Jason Campbell taking over in the fourth quarter when Cutler went out with a neck injury and threw eight of his nine passes to someone other than Marshall, whose one catch was for a touchdown.
The result was that by late season, receivers other than Marshall could be reasonably sure that the football was not coming to them regardless of whether they were primary on the plays or not. The want-to was still there, but as the year went on, the situation became self-fulfilling: Cutler ignoring non-Marshall receivers, non-Marshalls gradually lose sharpness and attitude, Cutler goes even more to Marshall.
But against the Bengals, the ball was finding others besides Marshall.
“It’s very different,” said Earl Bennett, who caught the lone pass thrown to him in his first game since suffering a concussion in an early August practice. “You never know who the guy is going to be week in and week out, so you do have to prepare mentally.
“This year you better be ready. It’s totally different, you’ve got a lot of guys who can make plays, and Jay’s doing a great job of getting it to them.”
Diversification works against the Minnesota Vikings. The Detroit Lions had four players with six or more “targets” last Sunday, and they dismantled the Vikings, 34-24, with 357 yards, including 101 by running back Reggie Bush on screens and underneath routes.
The use of multiple receivers prevented the Vikings from swarming All-Pro wideout Calvin Johnson. If Cutler is able to force the Vikings to worry about Earl Bennett, Forte, Jeffery, Marshall and Martellus Bennett, using areas of the field he didn’t always in the past, the threat of the Chicago offense increases exponentially.
“(The Vikings) are not going to give you anything big,” Cutler said. “They don’t give up a lot of big plays, so you kind of have to dink and dunk and protect the ball and run the ball efficiently to move the ball. We’re not going to get big 40-, 50-yard chunks.”