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updated: 11/13/2013 5:39 AM

Sack-minded Ravens to challenge Bears' O-Line

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  • Over the last two seasons, no one has more NFL receptions (178) than Brandon Marshall, and his 19 TD catches are second in the league in that same time.

      Over the last two seasons, no one has more NFL receptions (178) than Brandon Marshall, and his 19 TD catches are second in the league in that same time.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

 
 

With two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman sidelined, along with seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton, there's even more pressure on the Bears' offense to perform at a higher level.

Having lost four of six games, the pressure is mounting if the Bears want to remain relevant in playoff discussions.

Fortunately for coach Marc Trestman's 5-4 team, the offense appears capable of handling the responsibility, as it has for much of the season, even as Josh McCown fills in again for quarterback Jay Cutler. McCown will get his second start of the season Sunday at Soldier Field against the Baltimore Ravens (4-5).

Even after the 21-19 loss to the Detroit Lions, the Bears still are No. 3 in scoring, averaging 28.8 points per game. They have the No. 8 passing game, which averages 261.7 yards, and the unit hasn't missed a beat with McCown running the show.

Whether it's Cutler or McCown, Brandon Marshall continues to stockpile elite numbers. Since the start of last season he has more receptions (178) than anyone in the NFL, and his 19 TD catches rank a close second to Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (20).

And Marshall has a much more talented supporting cast this year, especially with 2012 second-round draft pick Alshon Jeffery enjoying a breakout season. Like Marshall, Jeffery's effectiveness doesn't seem to waver with McCown at the controls.

Marshall has 29 catches for 408 yards and 5 touchdowns in the last four games, during which McCown has gotten all of his limited playing time. Nearly half of Marshall's four-game totals -- 13 catches, 187 yards and 2 touchdowns -- have come on passes from McCown, who has played the equivalent of seven of the 16 quarters.

Jeffery actually has been more productive with McCown in the game. In his last four games, Jeffery has 19 catches for 306 yards and 1 touchdown. He has 11 of those catches for 190 yards, and the TD came with McCown delivering the ball, although he dropped a catch from Cutler in the end zone and one at the goal line Sunday.

In games in which they've both played, McCown's passer rating is 120.8, Cutler's 57.5.

Let's be clear, though: There is no quarterback controversy, and Trestman torpedoed the notion that McCown has a better grasp of his offense than Cutler.

"That's not the case," the coach said. "Josh has been here working for the last eight months learning the offense, and when he's had the opportunity to play, he's played very well. But he's played in limited action, so I don't think that's a question that I could answer any other way.

"I don't think there's any indication of that based on the time Josh has played and the time Jay has played. But I do think when Josh has played he's done an excellent job."

And every indication is that he will continue to do so as long as he has the NFL's top receiving combo on the field -- and the necessary protection.

Marshall and Jeffery both went over 100 yards against the Lions, and they are the most productive receiving duo in the NFL this season with a combined 1,521 yards. They're 7 yards ahead of the Denver's Demaryius Thomas (793) and Eric Decker (721).

Marshall has 786 yards and is on pace for 1,397; Jeffery has 735 yards, on pace for 1,307.

Jeffery had an apparent touchdown catch reversed on review, but it was an exceptional effort. He also dropped a catchable ball over the middle earlier in the game that could have been a TD. His emergence has taken defensive attention away from Marshall, who appreciates his understudy's contributions.

"Just for Alshon to get his hands on that ball, and (he) had the body control to get it down," Marshall said. "That kid is special. He's awesome."

The biggest concern for the Bears' offense this week is a line that backslid against the Lions, failing to create much running room and allowing Cutler to be hit repeatedly, though he was sacked just once.

"We're disappointed we couldn't do a better job in that area," Trestman said.

The O-line won't have it any easier against a Ravens defense that has at least 2 sacks in 17 straight games, two games shy of the NFL record, and is tied for third in the league with 32 sacks.

Without a better effort by the line, the offense won't be able to carry an injury-weakened defense.


• Follow Bob's Bears reports on Twitter @BobLeGere.

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