Brandon Marshall remembers well his one meeting with Baltimore Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb. Actually, he would probably like to forget it.
Marshall was on his way to a 101-catch, 1,120-yard season with the 2009 Denver Broncos, who were 6-0 when they went to Baltimore. They left Baltimore with Webb holding Marshall to four catches and just six yards per reception, barely half his average for that season.
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“He pretty much dominated me,” Marshall recalled. “I wasn’t prepared. Look on a piece of paper and you see that he’s a fairly small guy compared to other guys around the league. But he’s probably one of the strongest corners that I’ve ever faced.”
The problem for the Bears is that Webb is not the only physical part of the Baltimore secondary.
So much of the NFL is about matchups. With a receiver corps comprised of Martellus Bennett (6-6), Alshon Jeffery (6-3) and Marshall (6-4), the Bears routinely have matchup advantages.
Not necessarily Sunday against the Ravens.
The Ravens confront the Bears with size on the back end. Webb is 5-10; Jimmy Smith, the 27th pick of the 2011 draft, is 6-2, 205 pounds. Strong safety James Ihedigbo is 6-1 and 214 pounds, and free safety Matt Elam, the Ravens’ first-round pick in this year’s draft, is 210 pounds.
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What the Bears have been able to do offensively has been to distribute the football. Four players have 40 or more receptions through nine games. The Bears have typically only gotten to four 40’s with 16 games, and it is that distribution that is critical against a secondary capable of taking a receiver like Marshall out of a game.
“Coach Trestman has brought in his version of the West Coast Offense and along with Aaron [Kromer, offensive coordinator] and the guys on the staff, they’ve done a great job,” said Baltimore coach John Harbaugh.
What to watch for: Any passing game can be stifled if it relies too heavily on one receiver, as the Bears’ did with the Marshall Plan last season. The Bears had nine games last year in which they failed to net 200 passing yards.
Through nine games this season, the offense has topped 200 eight times. The number is not necessarily the point, because teams that fall behind in games are forced to throw, so the number goes up. Ball distribution has enabled the offense to keep the Bears in some games when the defense couldn’t.
“A couple of weeks ago, they were just trying to take me out of the game, depending upon who we were playing,” Marshall said. “And it was frustrating, but now, now that Alshon’s stepping up and really ballin’, it’s making it easier for me on my side, it’s making it easier for Matt [Forte] and the running game – although we didn’t see that last weekend – and Martellus is helping us out a bunch.”