Key matchup: Packers secondary vs. Bears WR Brandon Marshall

Posted Dec. 11, 2012 @ 2:56 p.m.
Posted By Dan Arkush

Packers secondary vs. Bears WR Brandon Marshall

The Bears have been mired in a real rut for the last month or so, but Marshall has continued earning every penny he is being paid after being acquired in a high-profile trade with the Dolphins early this past offseason. On the field, Marshall leads the league in catches (101) and is second in yards receiving (1,342 yards, 13.3 ypc) and has caught nine TD passes. With seven 100-yard receiving games and four games with double-digit catches, his prolific numbers don’t lie.

Off the field, he has been a model of deportment, publicly confronting the personality-disorder demons in great part responsible for him playing on three different teams at the pro level despite racking up stellar statistics everywhere he's been.

“Marshall is a freak,” rookie Vikings FS Harrison Smith said succinctly in advance of the Bears-Vikings matchup in Week 14. “He’s a big guy with really strong hands and long arms.”

Marshall also has an obviously strong rapport with Bears QB Jay Cutler, his former teammate in Denver. Cutler has made Marshall his primary target, despite the frequent double, and sometimes triple, coverage the seventh-year pro confronts.

Entering Week 14 having accounted for just under 50 percent of the Bears’ receiving yards, Cutler and Jason Campbell targeted Marshall a ridiculous 19 times in the Bears’ 21-14 loss to Minnesota. Marshall responded with 10-160-1 receiving with a long of 39 and showed great effort on every play in which he was involved while surpassing the century mark in receptions for the fourth time in his career. 

There was a definite downside to his performance worth noting, however, as Smith was able to negotiate a back-breaking 56-yard pick-six on one of those 19 targets. On another, Marshall had a very costly drop on what would have been a key fourth-down conversion.

The Packers might have done the best job of minimizing Marshall’s impact so far this season in their Week Two 23-10 win at Lambeau Field, when they limited Marshall to only two catches for 24 yards. In that game, they played a lot of “one man” coverage with Tramon Williams being the primary defender. In addition to holding Marshall in check, Williams registered two of the Green Bay secondary’s four interceptions in that game.

With lots of help from his safeties, including veteran Charles Woodson, who is expected to be back in action after missing six games with a broken collarbone (five tackles and an interception in Week Two), look for Williams to again shoulder the coverage load on Marshall.

Williams warmed up for the task by doing a creditable job shadowing Lions star WR Calvin Johnson in the Packers’ 27-20 Sunday-night victory. Johnson did have 10 catches for 118 yards (13 targets), but he only had a long of 20 (11.8 ypc) and never really inflicted any major damage, as Williams did an excellent job of maintaining position, reacting well to Johnson’s route and using his terrific vertical jump to break up a couple of jump passes in Johnson’s direction.

Speedy CB Sam Shields, who had been inactive since suffering a high ankle sprain vs. Houston in Week Six, made a key interception vs. the Lions 30 yards downfield and will probably start at right corner over Davon House, who had a tough time early vs. Detroit.

Rookie Casey Hayward (five interceptions) figures to remain the team’s primary slot defender, even with Woodson returning to the mix, as the second-round pick has greatly exceeded expectations most of the season, displaying excellent Woodson-type instincts.