Earl Bennett’s bonanza comes at a cost to other receivers
November 15, 2011 8:34PM
Chicago Bears - Seattle Seahawks NFC Divisional Playoff Game
here’s the catch
Since returning from injury, Earl Bennett (right) has become Jay Cutler’s favorite target the last two games.
Player Catches Yds TD
Earl Bennett 11 176 1
Roy Williams 3 46 0
Johnny Knox 2 32 0
Matt Forte 1 20 0
Sam Hurd 1 21 0
Devin Hester 1 12 0
Dane Sanzenbacher 0 0 0
Updated: December 17, 2011 8:38AM
The return of Earl Bennett has been a boon for Jay Cutler. But it has been a bust for every other Bears wide receiver.
Bennett has been even better than expected since returning from a nagging chest bruise that forced him to miss five games. In two games, he has 11 receptions for 176 yards (16.0 per catch) and one touchdown. Seven of his catches have been for first downs — four of those were third-down conversions. Five have come with more than 10 yards to go for a first down. One was for a touchdown. But now that Cutler has his security blanket back, it seems like he doesn’t want to play with any of his other toys. Johnny Knox has two catches for 32 yards since Bennett returned. Devin Hester has one catch for 12 yards. Rookie Dane Sanzenbacher, who looked like he was turning into Cutler’s go-to guy — five catches against the Packers, six against the Lions at Ford Field — has disappeared.
And Cutler’s promising connection with Roy Williams — if more than one catch in three consecutive games can be considered proof of a budding rapport — fizzled noticeably Sunday against the Lions. They miscommunicated on Cutler’s first pass to Williams when Cutler threw long and Williams went short. Cutler went back to Williams in the third quarter, but Williams couldn’t handle a well-thrown but well-defended pass.
That was it for Roy (no catches, no yards). And for Jay, too. Cutler threw behind Kellen Davis on the next play and did not complete a pass the rest of the game — he was 0-for-5 in the second half.
Cutler’s step back hardly registered in a game dominated by the Bears’ defense and special teams. But with the weather about to turn and the stakes about to rise, it’s a little discomforting to have an offense so tethered to the quirkiness of Cutler. He’s locked in with Bennett, which is great. But Bennett has 53 percent of Cutler’s passing yards in the last two games — an unhealthy percentage almost no matter who’s catching the ball.
There’s no need to panic with the Bears 6-3 and behind only the Packers in the NFC. But at this point, it seems like the Bears would be better off acquiring Cutler’s old receivers from Vanderbilt than waiting for him to develop a connection with his other receivers.
‘‘It takes time,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘I’ve been with Earl for a long time, thrown a lot of balls to him. I’m getting there with a lot of those guys — Johnny and Devin and even Roy and those guys. We’re getting there. It doesn’t happen overnight.’’
Well, it doesn’t here, anyway. But with all due respect to the progress Cutler has made this season — on and off the field — the quarterback-receiver connection isn’t so problematic in other places. Brandon Lloyd, the former Bear, joined one of the worst offenses in the NFL in St. Louis in midstream a month ago. He already has played with two quarterbacks — A.J. Feeley and Sam Bradford. And he has 21 receptions for 255 yards and two touchdowns in four games. Only Bennett can come close to that on the Bears.
And two rookies, Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, are off to a fast start in Cincinnati. Green has 41 receptions for 635 yards (15.5 per catch) and six touchdowns.
Of course, Green was the No. 4 pick in the draft. But what about Denarius Moore? He’s a fifth-round pick with the Raiders who has 23 receptions for 396 yards (17.2 yards per catch) and four touchdowns — from three quarterbacks. He caught five passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns against the Chargers on Thursday from Carson Palmer, who had been in Oakland all of three weeks. How does that work?
‘‘That happens,’’ Williams said. ‘‘It happened with Jon Kitna [in Detroit]. I played with so many different quarterbacks, and then Kitna came and boom. It just depends on the personnel.’’
Indeed it does.