Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has targeted wide receiver Brandon Marshall 56 times, which is 33 more than the team's second most-targeted player (Alshon Jeffery, 23 targets). Through six weeks, Marshall is the seventh most-targeted player in the NFL.
Yet the Bears aren't just using Marshall as a pass catcher. He has also served very well as a decoy down the field.
Because Marshall is the focal point of the club's passing attack, opposing defenses usually give him extra attention in the secondary. Often this involves rolling a safety over the top, with a cornerback underneath, creating bracket coverage.
Bears coordinator Mike Tice is learning how to take advantage of this extra attention. Let's take a look at one play from last week's victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars to see how Chicago is using Marshall as a decoy.
Before the snap
Marshall (blue) is wide right to the top of the play. TE Kellen Davis (red) is on the right edge of the line. The Jaguars will use two-deep zone coverage on this play. Marshall and Davis will run go routes at the snap.
At the snap
Marshall and Davis release downfield. Both the deep safety and the underneath corner are shading toward the sideline in Marshall's direction. This leaves a gap in the zone outside the right hash, the area where Davis is headed.
Davis turns and sits in the open zone. With both the safety and corner fixated on Marshall, there is no one close enough to Davis to make a play on the ball. Cutler fires a bullet to Davis for a 15-yard gain and a first down.
Throughout this contest, Tice constantly used Marshall and another receiver in dual routes. Almost every time, the play was designed to open up space for Marshall to make the catch. Tice used that same strategy on this play, only with Marshall serving as a decoy.
Secondaries are going to pay close attention to Marshall each and every game this year. For many opposing defenses, their first goal will be stopping Chicago's No. 1 wideout. Which means the coaching staff must have plays designed to take advantage of that extra attention.
With this play, Tice uses Davis as his second receiver, running him side by side with Marshall until the two defenders committed to the outside pass catcher. This left a gaping hole for Davis to exploit.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.