Standing at the Minnesota 4-yard line, Brandon Marshall raised both his arms high over his head and waved them back and forth, desperately seeking the attention of Jay Cutler. With the Bears leading 14-10 midway through the fourth quarter of Sunday's contest versus the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field, Chicago was looking to add points to the scoreboard and extend its margin to a two-score lead. Marshall's gesture indicated to Cutler that he had the matchup that could give the Bears those points, as he was being defended with single coverage and a wide open corner of the end zone.
After taking the snap and looking left, Cutler turned to his right and noticed Marshall had the one-on-one coverage he expected. The quarterback threw a dart over his receiver's head as Marshall out-jumped Minnesota defensive back Josh Robinson to come down with the ball. The reception gave the Bears the 11-point lead they desired and was one of several big plays for the Chicago passing game on the afternoon, a key in the team's 21-13 victory.
"(Marshall) had kind of posted up and he made a heck of a play," Cutler said of the touchdown throw, his third of the game. "Down there, the field is so short, the height matters but you have to put it in the right place. (Brandon) does a great job of using his body."
The touchdown was a strong reminder of what the Bears can do through the air. Chicago had not been very efficient passing the ball recently, as it averaged 219.7 net passing yards in its previous three contests, all losses, gaining no more than 6.1 yards per pass play in any of the games. The staple to the team's passing attack – its ability to stretch the field with its big, playmaking wide receivers – had been controlled, as the Bears had a combined three receptions of more than 30 yards in the three defeats.
Versus the Vikings, the Bears were able to get back on track through the air. Facing an undersized secondary that gave Marshall (6-foot-4) and Alshon Jeffery (6-foot-3) height advantage against their counterparts, Chicago stretched the field repeatedly. Cutler finished with 330 passing yards and threw for the team's three touchdowns, as the Bears gained 7.7 yards per attempt. After struggling with deep throws prior to Sunday, the Bears had three pass plays of 30 yards or more in this game alone.
"I think the most important thing is when (Marshall and Jeffery) are one-on-one, we give them a chance to make a play," coach Marc Trestman said. "All three (touchdowns) were tremendous plays. "We try to put the ball in a place where they can use their body in the catch radius, and we did that today."
Despite battling an ankle injury that required him to undergo lengthy treatment following the game, Marshall finished with seven receptions for 90 yards and the two touchdowns. Jeffery lead the way with 11 catches for 135 yards and a score.
"They played a lot of man-to-man, so I guess that was their scheme. We just tried to take advantage of it," Jeffery said. "The sky is the limit, (defenses) can't cover us. If you want to play man-to-man, we are going to take advantage of every opportunity."
Coming into the game, the Bears knew they wanted to exploit their receivers' height advantage, and that meant throwing to Cutler's right. The team's top target was Robinson, the Minnesota cornerback who lines up on that side of the field and is listed at 5-foot-10. All three of Cutler's touchdowns went to receivers being matched up against Robinson, as did the quarterback's 34-yard throw to Jeffery in the third quarter.
The strong downfield passing attack allowed for the entire offense to open up. Running back Kyle Long said that the deep threats that Marshall and Jeffery presented forced Minnesota to play extra safeties deep, allowing him more room to run. Cutler added that the team's ability to beat the single coverage made the Vikings adjust their plans to blitz, keeping his pocket clean. After being sacked 10 times in the past three games, the quarterback wasn't taken down once on 43 pass plays on Sunday.
Most importantly, the passing attack led the Bears to a victory, the team's first of the season at Soldier Field.
"We need to keep (Jeffery) going. We need to keep (Marshall) going," Cutler said. "We've had good weeks of practice before, we just had to play better, make some plays, overcome some things.
"We did that all (on Sunday.)"