With former 7th-round pick Kevin White now on IR after fracturing his left fibula, current Bears’ starting quarterback Brian Hoyer might be forced to get heavily acquainted with arguably his best offensive teammate: Alshon Jeffery.
Now, some of you might be reading this and thinking to yourselves, “well, duh.” Of course, the Bears need to get Jeffery the ball; he’s their #1 receiver. It’s obvious.
In theory, that’s exactly how it should be. In practice, this has been far from the case so far this season. A deeper look at the numbers suggests that the quarterback change from Jay Cutler to Hoyer has been particularly unkind to Jeffery’s stats.
Can someone explain to me why Alshon Jeffery had 3 targets in the first 52 minutes? It is so easy when they target him.
— Scott Grodsky (@ScottGrodsky) September 26, 2016
At this point in time, Jeffery currently sits at 17 catches. According to NFL.com’s stat tracker, the Bears’ top receiver is currently tied for…50th place in receptions. That’s right. 50th.
By comparison, White caught 19 passes before his injury, the most of any Bear in his first four games. Bears’ slot receiver Eddie Royal, who coincidentally is also battling injuries again, currently sits at 18 catches. So that’s two Bears who currently have more catches than the team’s best receiver.
To be fair, Jeffery does lead all Bears in receiving yards with 317 (14th in the league), largely on the strength of gaining 201 yards over his first two games. However, there are other interesting trends that are telling when it comes to Jeffery’s lack of effectiveness: yards per catch and targets.
After averaging 26.3 yds/catch against Houston (long: 54 yds) and 19.6 yds/catch (long: 49 yds) against Philadelphia, two of the league’s best defenses, Jeffery has seen his yds/catch numbers dip to 14.0 and 15.3 in his last two games, respectively, with his longest reception going for 22 yards in both games.
Additionally, in those two games, he was severely out-targeted by White (14 to 7 vs. Dallas; 9 to 5 vs. Detroit). In fact, Royal (7) also had more targets than Jeffery did against the Lions, relegating arguably the Bears’ biggest offensive threat to a third option.
Kevin White has 11 more targets than Alshon Jeffery
He has just two more catches and 130 fewer yards.
— Raymond Summerlin (@RMSummerlin) October 5, 2016
Now, some of this could certainly be due to opponents’ desires to negate Jeffery by employing consistent double-coverage against him, which naturally encourages quarterbacks to throw to someone else.
That said, that doesn’t seem to stop other quarterbacks from finding their top receivers, regardless of whatever coverages are thrown at them. Matt Ryan certainly didn’t shy away from targeting Julio Jones 15 times last Sunday. A.J. Green hasn’t been targeted fewer than eight times in a game this year. Neither has Odell Beckham Jr.
In 2015, without White, Alshon Jeffery ranked top-10 in targets per game, red zone targets per game, and "deep targets" per game. https://t.co/IHNwESycFt
— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) October 5, 2016
Or perhaps the lack of opportunities and productivity partially stems from Jeffery not being 100% at the moment, battling hamstring and knee ailments.
And yet, since the start of his breakout second season (2013), Jeffery has averaged no fewer than nine targets a game until this year (6.25), regardless of his injury situation. When he’s been on the field, he’s been getting his chances and making the most of them. Why should now be any different?
Particularly with White out and Royal likely being less than 100%, the Bears need to get the ball to Jeffery.
While the emergence of Jordan Howard is certainly helpful, particularly against a Colts defense that gives up 105.8 yards per game on the ground, it’s only a matter of time before teams start forcing Hoyer, if he continues to start in place of Cutler, to beat them through the air.
And if he’s going to do that, he and his pop-gun arm are going to have to start attempting to stretch the field with vertical throws, something that hasn’t happened as yet.
According to Sportingcharts.com, Hoyer’s passes only travel an average of 3.81 yards in the air before reaching their target.
That’s likely going to have to change. Either that, or Dowell Loggains will need to get creative with his short and intermediate route combinations to give Jeffery opportunities to run after the catch.
One way or another, it’s about time for Hoyer and the Bears to start getting Alshon Jeffery involved on a more consistent basis. Until they do, this offensive attack will never be as good as it can be.