By: Laurence Holmes-
(WSCR) When it comes to the Tampa-2 defense, Lovie Smith is a believer. In fact, when it comes to this system, it’s fair to call the Bears head coach a disciple, or even a zealot.
Monday in Philadelphia was different story. The Bears mixed coverages and looks to confuse Michael Vick, but the biggest change was how physical the cornerbacks were allowed to be. They mixed their signature defense in with a bunch of man coverages. The corners responded with a hard-hitting game. It set the tone and was a big factor in the Bears 30-24 victory.
The encounter left Vick perplexed.
“I don’t know what it is,” Vick said. “They play a great scheme. They did some things differently that we didn’t expect. They played some different coverages other than we thought. We thought they were going to come out and play us differently.”
DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are speedy. They make big plays, but the Bears cornerback tandem of Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman were given the task of manning up against them frequently and they answered the bell.
Brian Urlacher was impressed by the tandem’s play.
“They did a good job,” he said. “These last few weeks we’ve played a lot of man against good receivers and they locked them up.”
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You saw the Bears corners jam at the line of scrimmage, frequently re-routing them. They mixed in playing off the speedy receivers and it made a difference. Maclin and Jackson converted only six catches on a combined 17 targets. That’s an awful percentage for a team that relies on big plays.
“One of the things going into the game that we knew we had to do was out hit them, and I think we accomplished that,” Tillman said.
As the Bears continued to be physical, it seemed like the Eagles receivers started to wilt. After misses, they kept looking to the officials to bail them out. In most cases, their objection was denied.
“I think they did get a little frustrated towards the end,” Tillman said. “They make big plays and we wanted to make them grind it out and we were pretty successful in not giving up the 80-yard passes that they’re used to doing. I was proud of our secondary, thought we did a pretty good job.”
Jennings saw the frustration mounting and kept the in-your-face play going.
“Me and Charles know that we had to be physical with them and we’d get a couple of drops,” Jennings said. “Every time they get a chance to catch the ball we want to hit them. They were just always looking for a flag and I think that’s just a sign that they get frustraed. They’re not used to guys being physical with them.”
The physical play had a real effect on Maclin and Jackson. Even when the Bears played zone, you saw the Eagles wideouts looking for the hit instead of the ball. Maclin especially, who dropped a big gainer across the middle.
“When you’re kinda in their head like that, they had a couple of drops across the middle,” Jennings said. “If you go across the zone you always have a thought in your mind that somebody is around you ready to hit you. I think that’s what was going through his mind (Maclin) and he had a couple of drops.”
The approach of playing more man defense can’t be used all the time, but it was nice to see the Bears be able to fight speed with toughness. Both of these corners have a mean streak. They like play press coverage. They appreciate the challenge. Credit to Smith for turning them loose and confounding one of the most explosive recevier tandems in the NFL.