The Chicago Bears' run of 10 seasons without a player surpassing 1,000 yards receiving ended last year when Brandon Marshall amassed 1,508 yards.
A year later, the Bears are poised to have two 1,000-yard receivers in Marshall and second-year wideout Alshon Jeffery. Are they the best receiver duo in the NFL this season? Marshall said Wednesday that's not even a question. Is he right? Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: Marshall and Jeffery are the best receiver duo in the NFL.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. But let me throw a caveat out there: When healthy, Atlanta's Roddy White and Julio Jones are the best receiver duo in the NFL. But with White (active in Week 10) and Jones sidetracked this year due to injuries, Marshall and Jeffery top the list, combining to catch 107 passes for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns through nine games. The Denver Broncos are also in the conversation with their trio of productive wideouts, but what separates Marshall and Jeffery is their ability to single-handedly dominate a game with their size and length. Between them, Marshall and Jeffery have eight 100-yard receiving games, with Jeffery, the Bears' No. 2 wideout, setting the team's single-game receiving yards record with 218. Marshall and Jeffery have the potential to wreak havoc inside the NFC North for years to come, if Marshall receives a contract extension from the Bears in the offseason.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. Their 1,521 receiving yards as a tandem leads the NFL. At the very least, they're in the team photo. What's most important is that Marshall and Jeffery believe they're the best and prepare like they're fringe guys. Both receivers have height and size, and both are solid route runners with strong hands. While Jeffery got some contrarian blame for dropping two touchdown passes in the Bears' 21-19 loss to Detroit, both difficult catches, he has shown incredible hands throughout this season. Marshall has been arguably the most productive receiver in the NFL since coming over to Chicago. His 178 catches are the most in the NFL and he has 11 100-yard games, second only to Calvin Johnson. Any NFL team would kill for this duo. It's crazy that it's the Bears -- where receivers go to die, said Muhsin Muhammad -- that have them.
Fact or Fiction: Charles Tillman has played his last game as a Bear.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. I think Tillman has several good years of football left in him, but I just don't know how much money the Bears are prepare to offer him after the season. Including a workout bonus, Tillman will earn $8,001,575 from the Bears in 2013. What will the next contract look like? Will Tillman accept a pay cut? Will another team with a need at cornerback offer Tillman a better deal? Personally, I'd love to see Tillman finish his career in Chicago. He's the greatest defensive back in the history of the franchise. However, the Bears allowed one of the greatest linebackers in the history of the franchise to leave last offseason over money. This is a tough business, especially for veterans late in their careers. History could very well repeat itself this offseason with Tillman. At the end of the day this likely comes down to money. Are the Bears willing to pay enough to keep Tillman around for another couple of seasons?
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. I think the Bears make him an offer to come back for next season. It would have to be at a reduced salary, but he's basically in a "play with the Bears or retire" situation. Unless, Lovie Smith gets a head job and imports Tillman as a veteran/mentor. While he can't punch out Father Time, Tillman can still cover and he can still create takeaways. Tillman turns 33 in February and he could still have two more strong seasons left. General manager Phil Emery, who isn't nostalgiac toward veterans he's inherited, has to rebuild this defense through the draft, and it would make sense to keep Tillman to bridge the gap.
Fact or Fiction: The Bears' precipitous slide on defense has been the biggest surprise of their season.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. The demise of the Bears' defense has been terribly disappointing, but nine games into the regular season, I believe the biggest surprise has been the growth of the offense in such a short period of time. The turnaround on the offensive line has been nothing short of remarkable, even though the line struggled at times against Detroit. Marshall and Jeffery are lethal at wide receiver, while Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett are dependable weapons, capable of having big games. The mere fact that Josh McCown can step in off the bench and thrive in relief of Jay Cutler speaks volumes about Marc Trestman's offensive system. Not to take anything away from McCown, who deserves his share of credit for playing so well, but Trestman is light years ahead of what the Bears had last season with Mike Tice and Jeremy Bates.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. I expected the Bears offense to improve under Trestman. I expected Cutler to have a good, but not yet great, season. I suppose the viability of the rookie right side of the line, Kyle Long and Jordan Mills, is pretty surprising. But the death of the defense is definitely jarring. While the Bears' defense lulled a bit during the Bob Babich/Lovie Smith coordinator years, it looked like a turnkey operation for a coach like Mel Tucker. This group, led by tested veterans, figured to be stable, if not as spectacular as last season when it scored nine touchdowns. But injuries have crippled the pass rush and linebacking corps, not to mention poor play from the healthy safeties. Every bad thing that was bound to happen to such a fortunate group happened. It's time to reinvest in this unit in the draft.
Fact or Fiction: Marc Trestman should continue to be aggressive on fourth down.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. For years, Bears fans complained about Lovie Smith's conservative style of coaching. Now all of a sudden, the same people want Trestman to take his foot off the gas pedal? The Bears have converted 67 percent (6-of-9) of their fourth-down conversion chances. Trestman knows what he's doing. I didn't have a problem with the Bears going for it on fourth-and-1 against the Lions, but I did take issue with the play call. But that's an entirely different argument. Trestman is a confident head coach. I'd hate to see him loose that edge by second-guessing himself.
Jon Greenberg: Fact, fact, fact. Going for it on fourth down is in vogue as more and more teams pay attention to statistical evidence that it's often the smart move over "playing it safe." Patriots coach Bill Belichick has been doing it for years. Even when the numbers don't overwhelmingly support it, like that call in the fourth quarter in Green Bay, I love that Trestman doesn't waver from this aggressiveness. I love it. As we've addressed, the defense isn't the reliable Bears defense anymore and the offense has weapons and proper coaching. I don't doubt Trestman at all in this regard. Sorry, Adam Podlesh.