Jay Cutler graduated from Vanderbilt in 2005 with a bachelor's degree in human and organizational development. The Chicago Bears quarterback was not a math major.
“What’s nine times 16?” Cutler asked during his weekly press conference with Chicago-area reporters earlier this week.
The correct answers:
2) The pass-catching pace Cutler’s favorite wide receiver, Brandon Marshall, is on after one game.
3) The makings of an NFL single-season reception record.
4) Potential trouble for the Green Bay Packers’ defense Thursday night.
Cutler targeted Marshall, his former teammate with the Denver Broncos and his new teammate with the Bears after an offseason trade with the Miami Dolphins, a whopping 15 times in the Bears’ 41-21 opening-day victory over the Indianapolis Colts. They connected nine times for 119 yards and a touchdown, and while even Cutler admits it’s unrealistic to keep up such a pace, there’s no denying that the Bears finally got Cutler a big-time pass-catching threat in Marshall.
“If we’re nine out of (15) to him, I’ll take that I guess. But (targeting him) 15 times a game, it’s not going to happen. It’s just not,” Cutler said. “There are going to be teams that take him away. We have to go to other guys, we have to run the ball. That game, (the Colts) wanted to play man. They were going to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to play man and you guys are going to have to beat us through the air.’ And, I guess we did.”
Which brings us to the Packers’ game plan for Thursday night’s game between the NFC North rivals at Lambeau Field. The last time the Packers saw Marshall, he was wearing the Dolphins’ white and turquoise uniform but was putting up similar numbers to Sunday’s. In an October 2010 game at Lambeau Field, Marshall put up 10 catches for 127 yards as the Dolphins surprised the eventual Super Bowl XLV-champion Packers, 23-20 in overtime.
In that game, Marshall caught passes of 13, 23 and 19 yards on the Dolphins’ first possession – a drive which ended in a Miami touchdown – before defensive coordinator Dom Capers decided to match Tramon Williams on Marshall on the second drive. While that drive began with a pair of 5-yard catches by Marshall, it ended with Williams intercepting Chad Henne on a pass intended for Marshall. On the next play, Aaron Rodgers hit Greg Jennings for an 86-yard touchdown.
“I know I was on him quite a bit during the game but I don’t know if we matched up or not. I can’t recall. Maybe he was just mainly on the side that I was on,” Williams said this week. “(But) I went against the guy already. I know he’s a tough competitor and I’ll be prepared.”
That much is certain. The Packers have made no secret about their plans to match Williams up on the opponent’s best wide receiver, especially with some uncertainty about the No. 2 cornerback spot as Jarrett Bush (coverage limitations), Sam Shields (tackling problems, regression in Year 2) and Davon House (inexperience, shoulder injury) all have their drawbacks. That’s not to say those cornerbacks won’t have their hands full with No. 2 wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, whose NFL debut was an impressive one (three receptions for 80 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown).
But Marshall is clearly the go-to guy, having played with Cutler from 2006 through 2008 in Denver, where Marshall caught 102 passes for 1,325 yards and seven touchdowns in 2007 and 104 passes for 1,265 yards and six TDs in 2008.
“(Marshall) is a talented guy. He uses his size and his strength and he’s one of those big physical receivers (who) he tries to seek contact and uses that to create separation. And he’s got a big wingspan,” Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “So he’s a big target for Cutler, and they’ve played together (in the past), so they obviously have some chemistry working together.”
To prepare for Marshall, Williams, who appears back to full health after last season’s debilitating shoulder injury, said he would not only watch the Bears-Colts film closely but also dig out the film from the Packers-Dolphins game two years ago to get ready for what promises to be a big challenge.
“Any time your coaches show that confidence in you, you’re always going to go out there and put your best foot forward,” Williams said. “They showed that confidence in you so you want to go out there and play with that same confidence. I’m going to go out there and play with confidence, no matter who I’m lined up on. Hopefully, I’ll get the job done.”