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Shepkowski: Marshall On Pace For 85 Catches, But At What Cost?

By Nick Shepkowski-

(CBS) Is the Bears offense better with Brandon Marshall?

Stupid question. Whenever you're able to add a talent like No. 15 you do so, and Phil Emery deserves all the praise in the world for executing the trade that brought Marshall, the Bears most talented wide receiver in team history in (don't come at me with Johnny Morris or Harlon Hill.) What could grow into a concern as the season goes in is how often Marshall is targeted by Jay Cutler.

To date, Marshall has caught 16 passes in a Bears uniform for 214 yards and one score. Not bad, but let's look a little deeper on those numbers.

Marshall has been targeted 31 times so far this season, meaning that just 51.6% of passes his way have been caught. To put that in perspective, 45 different players across the league have been thrown to at least 20 times this season. Of those 45 – just six players have a reception percentage lower than Marshall's 51.6%.

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I understand the appeal of Marshall, as he's easily one of the 10 most talented wide receivers in the NFL. Through three games, Marshall is on pace to pull in nearly 85 catches for the year (84.8 to be exact), a number that's only been attained four times in Chicago Bears history (Marty Booker – 2001, 2002, Johnny Morris – 1963, and Bobby Engram – 1999.)

At what cost will it be to get to that number or even surpass it for Marshall?

The good news is that last year, of the 28 players who finished with 70 or more receptions, only Brandon Lloyd had a reception percentage lower than Marshall's current 51.6%. If Marshall is to continue on this pace, then his reception percentage is likely to rise even a little bit but a look at receivers with 70+ receptions a year ago and reception percentages in the 40's or 50's does leave some concern.

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It's worth noting that five of the eight receivers that met the qualifiers last year finished on teams that ranked 20th or lower in points scored per game, and it should also be noted that just two of these receivers finished the 2011 season on teams that made the playoffs. (Lloyd started with Denver who went 0-4 before he was dealt.)

The question isn't whether or not Brandon Marshall is an elite receiver because he is, as are Larry Fitzgerald, Roddy White and Hakeem Nicks who found themselves on this list a season ago. (It should also be noted that Nicks' reception percentage went up 8% (to 65.1%) in the playoffs as he caught 28 of the 43 passes he was targeted on last postseason.) The question is whether or not play-calling designed for Marshall or Cutler locking onto Marshall grows to be too much because if so, those in-completions pile up and end up costing the offense.

Much was made of how great Marshall and Cutler performed together in Denver but going more in depth, were they really?

During the duo's time together with the Broncos, they hooked up 226 times and gained 2,899 in three seasons, but at what cost? 57.5% of Cutler's attempts to Marshall were completed, leaving 167 passes either hitting the ground or ending up in the opponents possession.

Sure, the pair averaged 1,295 yards between the 2007 and 2008 seasons, but Denver's 20.0 and 23.1 points per game those two seasons ranked 21st and 16th in the league, respectively. Not exactly world-busters, regardless of the yardage.

Don't get me wrong, I'm happy Brandon Marshall is a Bear and it's obvious that the potential for stellar offense grows with him in uniform.  For a team that has had just 12 second downs where they've faced fewer than 7 yards to go on the season though, part of me see's throwing too much at #15 as a real concern.

Nick Shepkowski is the associate producer for The McNeil and Spiegel Show, heard Monday-Friday from 9am-1pm on 670 The Score and You can follow him on Twitter @Shep670.

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