LAKE FOREST, Ill. — The Chicago Bears’ offense has been anything but a balanced attack.
The Bears know they’ll have to do more than have quarterback Jay Cutler throw to wide receiver Brandon Marshall repeatedly if they’re going to best a handful of strong defenses in the second half of the season, starting with Tennessee on Sunday.
Still, they’re not necessarily willing to abandon their offensive star.
“We’re like the (Minnesota) Timberwolves when Kevin Garnett was playing,” Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice said. “All their offensive plays went through him, and in our passing game obviously we’re going to go through Brandon.
“So he’s going to be the first read or an early read a lot of the times.”
When the Bears acquired Marshall in the offseason, they didn’t plan to use him as a decoy. He has caught fewer than five passes in only one game, the loss to Green Bay in which he had two receptions for 24 yards.
“When you have a definite ‘one,’ you want to make sure you get your ‘one’ receiver his reps, his plays, his passes, which we are doing,” coach Lovie Smith said. “But we definitely want to get others involved.”
Cutler and Marshall have been at their best in clutch situations. Marshall leads the NFC in third-down receptions (16) and yardage (675), while Cutler leads the NFL with a fourth-quarter passer rating of 132.0.
However, even with the duo piling up statistics, there hasn’t been in a rush to the end zone.
The most important figures are point production. The Bears’ offense is averaging 20.1 points per game. That’s down from the 21.9 points per game last season in the 10 games when Cutler didn’t have Marshall to throw to and Mike Martz was offensive coordinator.
Losing Alshon Jeffery for at least one more game due to a hand fracture has hurt the balance, but Earl Bennett returned two games ago from a hand injury and is starting to work his way back into the offense.
“It’s really important,” Marshall said. “I think getting Earl back is definitely going to help us and open up some things for all the guys.
“He was the reason things shifted for us on Sunday, making two big first-down catches I think in the fourth quarter really got us going.”
Running back Matt Forte has never had fewer than 51 catches in a season, but has just 18 receptions for 134 yards this year and only 45 yards receiving total over the past four games.
“I think I said earlier, maybe in training camp, I didn’t think Matt was going to get the touches that he got last year,” Cutler said. “There’s not enough balls to go around.
“I think we want to keep him fresher than he was last year toward the end of the year, that’s why we put (Michael Bush) in there and with the receivers we have there is a lot of balls to go around there. So Matt is not going to get the receptions he had last year. I think that is just how it is going to be this year.”
The Bears’ offense has been at its worst on first down, averaging a league-low 4.19 yards a first-down play.
“It’s really hard,” Tice said. “We’re running the ball good and all of a sudden we run into a second-and-10, -11 -12. And so where do you find the rhythm?”
NOTES: Jeffery missed practice, while TE Matt Spaeth had limited participation with an ankle injury. ... Cutler said the rib injury he sustained Oct. 22 against Detroit is no longer an issue.
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