Updated: November 3, 2013 10:20PM
Stopping the Bears’ offense last season meant stopping wide receiver Brandon Marshall, and no team did it better than the Green Bay Packers.
But this season is supposed to be different with the improvement of wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, the addition of tight end Martellus Bennett and the diversification under coach Marc Trestman.
“We feel that way because we’re not gearing every play to one guy or one type of play,” Trestman said. “I never really go into it thinking that they’re going to stop us all.”
No one is a bigger key to this mind-set than Jeffery.
Jeffery and Marshall can cement their status as one of the league’s top receiving tandems — with or without quarterback Jay Cutler — against the Packers on Monday night. They can make life easier for backup quarterback Josh McCown.
Heading into Week 9, Jeffery (561 receiving yards) and Marshall (540 yards) are one of three duos to be among the top 21 in receiving yards with many others having played one more game.
“If they’re taking one guy away with two, then somebody’s open with single coverage somewhere,” Trestman said. “It’s our job within the design of the play and from the standpoint of our reads to be able to get to that guy.”
Last year, Marshall dared the Packers to cover him one-on-one. Instead, Green Bay used “two-man” coverage. In the most basic terms, it’s a variation of cover-2 that uses two safeties over the top, involves press coverage underneath by cornerbacks and keys on certain routes.
The results? Eight catches for 80 yards for Marshall in two losses. Even when it appeared that Marshall was headed for a big day by scoring the first touchdown of their second matchup, he finished with six catches and 56 yards — 22 in the second half.
Marshall is expecting more of the same — plenty of cornerback Tramon Williams and safety help.
“Yeah, it sucks,” Marshall told Green Bay media.
But it won’t suck if Jeffery, who had only one catch for seven yards last year against the Packers, does what he has done all season.
“Last year, especially that second game, they rolled to me a lot and left Alshon one-on-one,” Marshall said. “I don’t know if they’re going to give Alshon one-on-ones this year. He’s leading our team in receiving yards. He’s been doing a lot of damage.”
And if Jeffery is covered, there’s Bennett, an over-the-middle option the Bears didn’t have before.
“[Cutler and McCown] get the job done,” Bennett said. “You’ve got to add sugar to both, though, and we are the sugar and the flavor of the offense.”
Monday night is a huge opportunity for the “sugar” to show that the offense truly is better equipped — with Cutler or McCown — as players have been saying all week.
Running back Matt Forte is being used more effectively, and the offensive line continues to keep the quarterbacks “clean.” But if the Packers blitz McCown as expected and Forte stays back to block, the pressure’s on Marshall, Jeffery and Bennett.
“They have to pick the guy they’re going to let beat them,” Marshall said. “Hopefully, we step up to that challenge and get it done.”
Stopping the Packers’ running backs with defensive coordinator
The Bears might be better off Monday night if they force Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to beat them. The tougher thing to accept would be seeing running backs Eddie Lacy and James Starks gash them apart.
“They’re doing a great job running the football,” Tucker said. “They’re above the league average in yards per carry. It’s really about everyone doing their job in run fits, playing with great power and great technique up front and rallying to the ball and not leaving it up to one guy. Everybody’s got to get to the ball — 11 to the ball, as many guys there as possible. That’s really the key.”
Lacy (4.0 average per carry) and Starks (6.0) have combined for 690 rushing yards and five touchdowns. The Packers entered Week 9 as the fourth- best rushing team, averaging 141.4 yards.
The success on the ground has only made Rodgers better and the Packers’ offense even more formidable. The Bears, meanwhile, are ranked 24th in rush defense, seemingly getting gashed week after week.
How do they improve?
“A lot of practice, a lot of critical film study,” Tucker said. “Just hammering guys on doing their jobs. Being more detailed in everything we do — coaches and players. More repetitions, faster repetitions . . . and understand that, ‘Hey, I need to do my job and trust that the guy next to me is going to do his job,’ and nobody ever has to do too much.”
LANDON COHEN DT | No. 97
Cut by the Dallas Cowboys in September after playing in two games, Landon Cohen has locked himself in as the Bears’ third defensive tackle behind Stephen Paea and Corey Wootton.
He has played in four consecutive games, starting one, and the signing of defensive tackle Jay Ratliff is unlikely to change his approach.
“I’m one of those guys who never gets comfortable,” Cohen said. “I feel like when you think you’ve got it, you don’t got it. When you think you don’t got it, you also don’t got it. I like to stay right there in the middle and continue to work on my craft.”
Cohen’s play has earned praise from coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery. A five-year veteran, Cohen appreciates getting a chance to work with assistant defensive line coach Michael Sinclair, a former Pro Bowl player with the Seattle Seahawks.
“I’m 27, and I still listen to him like I’m an 18-year-old kid,” Cohen said. “He knows what it’s about.”
Just when the Bears’ special teams started to get more consistent in the eyes of coordinator Joe DeCamillis, the attrition at linebacker will lead to changes.
Rookie linebackers Jon Bostic (right) and Khaseem Greene were heavily involved on special teams, and now both are starting for the first time together.
“We did sign Larry Grant, who was a real effective special-teams player in San Francisco, so it’s good to have him,” DeCamillis said. “It’s just the numbers game. We just have to work it out for the reps during the game.’’
General manager Phil Emery still loves to hit the road to scout, and on Saturday he took in Eastern Illinois and its top prospect, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, according to the Journal Gazette & Times-Courier in Charleston, Ill.
Garoppolo, a product of Rolling Meadows High School, is a fast riser in a deep quarterback class. He has completed 251 of 382 passes for 3,544 yards and 39 touchdowns in nine games.
With Emery in attendance, Garoppolo, who has broken Eastern Illinois records held by Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, had 399 passing yards and four touchdown passes in a 56-21 victory over Tennessee Tech.
A stat to consider: Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been sacked a ton since his first game in 2005. And this might be a surprise, but he has been sacked more times than Jay Cutler — 228-209 (158 with the Bears) and with 15 fewer starts.