It takes a village to improve Bears' passing offense

It takes a village to improve Bears' passing offense
December 29, 2012, 4:41 pm
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Not everything is as simple as it seems sometimes. And sometimes the reasons for a problem are so obvious as to be overlooked.

Take the Bears passing offense, for instance.

Brandon Marshall has been targeted 175 times this season by Jay Cutler. All other Bears wideouts have had a total of 129.

The numbers are nothing short of warped. But Marshall also has been on the field for more than twice the number of snaps as any other Bears receiver. His 927 dwarf the 401 played by next-closest Earl Bennett, followed by Alshon Jeffery (391) and Devin Hester (366). Marshall and Eric Weems are the only Bears wide receivers to be active for all 15 games to date.

Cutler offered a dismissive Dont know to a question last Wednesday as to why other Bears receivers have not been more involved in the passing game. Best guess is that Cutler does know.

Jason Campbell started one game this season, in San Francisco. It was one of the few times all season that the Bears have had a full complement of receivers. Perhaps not surprisingly, Hester, Jeffery, Marshall and Matt Forte were each targeted four times, and Bennett and Kellen Davis each twice.

The result wasnt necessarily any better than when Cutler has been throwing 43.4 percent (175 of 403) of his passes to Marshall. But since the same game-planning was in place, the results suggest pretty strongly where the preponderance of Marshall targets are coming from and it doesnt appear to have been Mike Tice.

Citing the number of drops by Bears receivers as a key reason why Jay Cutler is not a more effective quarterback is convenient. But is it accurate?

Bears receivers have been guilty of 33 drops this season, according to the stats analysts at ProFootballFocus.com. By contrast, Denver receivers have dropped 39 of Peyton Mannings throws. Aaron Rodgers should have 42 more completions based on his receivers drops. And while Tom Brady has the Patriots rolling into the postseason with his passing, he has done it with receivers dropping 43 of his passes.

Aah, but heres the rest of the story:

Rodgers has thrown nearly one-third more passes (522) than Cutler (403). Manning has thrown 554 passes. And Brady has thrown nearly 50 percent more passes than Cutler: 600. Cutlers receivers have dropped a higher percentage of his passes than those of top quarterbacks.

But wait, theres more.

Something that virtually all bad teams have in common is a quarterback who throws interceptions. Indeed, the dropped passes factor less into Jay Cutlers mediocre passer rating (80.2) than his own follies of 14 interceptions, which count heavily in passer-rating calculations.

Manning has thrown an uncharacteristic 11 but is completing 68.1 percent of his passes; not many balls hit the ground, right or wrong. And Brady and Rodgers have thrown just eight each.

Cutlers interception rate of 3.5 percent places him in very suspect, dubious company, better than just 5-10 Tennessees Jake Locker (3.7); 6-9 New York Jet Mark Sanchez (4.1); and 2-13 Kansas Citys Matt Cassel (4.3).

Others with interceptions above 3.0: Brandon Weeden of 5-10 Cleveland; Josh Freeman of 6-9 Tampa Bay; Ryan Fitzpatrick of 5-10 Buffalo.

The only quarterback with an interception percentage higher than 3.0 and whose team is winning is Andy Dalton, whose 9-6 Cincinnati Bengals are tied for allowing the third-fewest points in the AFC.