Greg Jennings thinks Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall is a genius.
Marshall had made headlines one day earlier when he went off on the rival Green Bay Packers during his weekly media availability. But it was something Marshall said later that Jennings found brilliant: Marshall's attempt to bait the Packers into matching their cornerbacks up with him man-to-man.
Marshall said Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers "did an amazing job of game-planning me" in the teams' Sept. 13 meeting, in which Marshall caught only two passes for 24 yards in Green Bay's 23-10 victory.
Then, Marshall dared the Packers to try to cover him 1-on-1 in Sunday's rematch at Soldier Field.
"I didn't beat double or triple coverage or whatever they were throwing at us," Marshall said. "I take it as a slap in my face when guys talk about my lack of ability to do something against them when they have help all over the place. I'm looking forward to 1-on-1 coverage. Hopefully, those guys in games like this may go to their coach and say, `Let me have him. I want Brandon Marshall. I want to stop Brandon Marshall. Let me have him 1-on-1, press coverage.' And we'll see what happens."
On Thursday, Jennings had answered questions for about three minutes before bringing up - unprompted - what Marshall had said.
"I think he's smart for saying whatever he said. So I'm going to be smart, too," Jennings said, a wide smile stretching across his face. "Man, I wish the Bears would play us 1-on-1 and man-to-man.
"I think he's smart. That reverse psychology, I think it's pretty impressive. So yeah, man, the Bears are always playing cover 2. I think they're scared not to play cover 2."
Then, Jennings laughed.
"Hey," he said, "I'll give it a shot."
The cover 2 defense has been like kryptonite to the Packers' previously unstoppable offense this season. Using two deep safeties to take away big plays, the scheme has prevented Green Bay from replicating last year's success, when the Packers scored 560 points (second-most in NFL history) and quarterback Aaron Rodgers won the NFL MVP by throwing for 45 touchdowns with only six interceptions.
Later, Jennings called Marshall's statements a "tactic."
"'Play me one-on-one.' What receiver doesn't want you to play man-to-man coverage the entire game?" he said.
Here's the bad news for Marshall: There's no way Capers is going to do that on every down Sunday. Even with cornerback Tramon Williams' ability to cover, he's assured of having help over the top from a safety much of the time, as he frequently did against Detroit's Calvin Johnson in the team's two games against the Lions this year.
For while Capers' scheme is certainly complex, one of the main tenets of the veteran coordinator's approach is simple: Stop the opponent's best players.
Whether it's Johnson, or Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, or, yes, Marshall, Capers formulates his defensive game plan each week by asking himself which offensive players could hurt his defense the most. While the results have varied over the last few years, the approach has remained the same.
"When we look at an offense, we look at who their top two or three producers are," Capers said recently. "And (we ask), what do you have to try to do to limit their production? (We're) going to say, 'Well, this is where we have to start.'
"What do you have to take away to win the game?"
For the Bears, it's obviously Marshall.
Marshall has caught 101 passes for 1,342 yards and nine touchdowns, while Chicago's next three wide receivers have a combined 65 receptions for 748 yards and five TDs.
Marshall has had seven 100-yard games this season and has caught at least 10 passes in his last three games. The only other team to shut him down was San Francisco, which held Marshall to two receptions for 21 yards Nov. 19, when quarterback Jay Cutler missed the game with a concussion and backup Jason Campbell started in his place.
According to safety Morgan Burnett, Capers' weekly Wednesday presentation to the defense begins with a portion of the slide show listing the opposing team's top players. Even though it's self-evident, the emphasis helps remind the Packers of how important it will be to contain those targets. This Wednesday, the discussion predictably began with Marshall, Burnett said.
"You know what they like to do. You watch the film; you know who the go-to guy is," Burnett said Thursday. "At the same time, that doesn't mean you just ignore everyone else.
"Of course, Brandon Marshall is the go-to guy. But you still have (other) playmakers in Devin Hester. You have the rookie, Alshon Jeffery, who's a big receiver, and then you have (running back) Matt Forte, who's a threat in the running game and the passing game."
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