NFL: The science to being a Bears receiver
The Bears' historic success through the air this season can boil down to everyone’s favorite high school subject.
“There’s a science to it,” Brandon Marshall said Sept. 8, after we saw the debut of the Marc Trestman offense in the Bears’ win over the Bengals. “On that corner route, if I’m supposed to be at a [7-yard split] and I’m at a [6-yard split], I’m going to get coached up on it. … Everything’s a science.”
Before last week’s game in Philadelphia, Marshall returned to the subject of science, which has helped Alshon Jeffery and him to be the top receiving duo in Bears history. Marshall discussed learning from Trestman where – precisely – he was supposed to be on one of Jay Cutler's interceptions in Cleveland.
“Those are the things that media don’t see or other people don’t really understand, but that’s the science of our football," he told reporters. "One little thing could ruin a game or potentially our season.”
Wide receivers coach Mike Groh explained what Marshall means when he calls the offense a science.
“It’s just trying to be precise and very technical in what we’re doing,” he said Friday. “We’re just trying to make sure we’re analyzing all the movements and where our feet and our hands and our eyes are.”
For Earl Bennett, this offense has made things easier for him on the field. He missed practice this week for family reasons and is questionable for Sunday's game, but he spoke about it last week.
“By having everything exact, you don’t have to think as much,” he said. “You know what to expect, you know what to run, you know – depending on the coverage – what you’ve got to do to run your route, and it allows you to play fast.”
The precision of the routes facilitates things for the quarterbacks. Cutler’s completion percentage of 63.1 is his highest since 2007. Josh McCown has completed 66.5 percent of his passes, well above his career average.
“I think we’re very specific,” Groh said about what sets the Bears’ route running apart. “We try not to leave a lot of room for improvisation because it’s dictated on the rhythm of the quarterback and him knowing where everybody’s going to be and then where they’re supposed to be when they’re supposed to be there.”
“When you’re running, you’re like ‘5 yards this, if the ‘backer does that, I’ve got X, Y, Z.’" Bennett said, describing the in-route thought process. "It just allows you to play fast because you know where you need to be and the quarterback is expecting you to be there."
Pay attention to precision in science class, kids, especially future wide receivers. The Bears are 128 gross passing yards and 73 net yards gained away from franchise records. The 30 passing touchdowns and collective 96.5 passer rating are both team records.
“We try to take all the guesswork out of it and be very specific with what we teach, so everybody knows where everybody is supposed to be,” Groh said. “When you’re a yard or two off, then we point it out, because that’s not where the quarterback expects you to be. At this level, it’s a very fine line between a completion and an incompletion. We’re trying to make it a higher percentage that we’ll get a completion.”
Bennett called it “one of the best systems that I’ve played in since I’ve been playing, and I love it.”
If the Bears make the playoffs, most of the thanks will go to the offense, and the science and precision that come with it.