By Jeff Joniak-
(CBS) The Bears face the Jets in New Jersey on Monday night after a come-from-behind win against the 49ers in Week 2. Here are a few thoughts on the mind heading into the game.
My stomach turned when Charles Tillman left the 49ers game with a triceps injury. His emotional reaction on the sideline indicated it was likely a season-ending tear, and a Monday MRI confirmed the fear. Twice in 10 months Tillman’s right arm has failed him, and now the best cornerback in Bears history takes on a mentoring role for rookies Kyle Fuller and Brock Vereen.
They will learn a lot from Tillman, beginning with his preparation both physically and mentally. He stuck to a routine that included leaving for the stadium five hours before kickoff to get his mind right, his body stretched and his muscles loose. In the era of the big receiver, Tillman was kryptonite. Few have frustrated Detroit’s Calvin Johnson like Tillman. Randy Moss was tied in knots by Tillman. One of Tillman’s signature plays was the Dec. 14, 2003 swipe in the end zone when he was matchup up against Moss in what turned out to be a Bears win over the Vikings at Soldier Field. He had 10 tackles in that game.
I will also never forget his pick-six of Detroit’s Jeff Garcia in overtime at Ford Field on Oct. 30, 2005. His perfected “Peanut Punch” tortured the Titans in 2012 when he forced fumbles in a blowout Bears win. In 12 seasons, he is third in team history in interceptions with 36, including a franchise-record eight returned for touchdowns. No cornerback in NFL history has forced more fumbles than his 42. The Bears will miss his physicality against the run. The reigning Walter Payton Man of the Year had big plans for 2014, eyeballing a title. The goal doesn’t change, but his job does.
Cornerbacks are more valuable on draft day than safeties, and you can’t have enough of them. Finding one with the right skill set to fit your scheme also requires finding one with the right temperament, mindset and toughness. In Santa Clara, we saw exactly why the Bears drafted Fuller. His two interceptions helped quiet the 49ers, but don’t forget about his tackling.
Fuller defended his position, finishing plays with requisite physicality on six stops. I believe Fuller could be an outstanding blitz option for coordinator Mel Tucker. His instincts are polished, evidenced by his second interception, when he played his technique perfectly coming off one receiver to track the ball heading in the direction of another. In April, the debate raged between taking a corner like Fuller or a safety prospect such as Ha Ha-Clinton Dix (Packers) or Calvin Pryor (Jets). All three could grow into great players, but for the Bears, it was more important to take a cornerback this time.
So far, it’s not ben so good in the return game for the Bears. The two-game total is 42 yards on four combined kick and punt returns. Rookie Senorise Perry has returned only two of 11 kickoffs, with nine touchbacks. The Bears average drive start after kickoffs is 19.5-yard line, with the two Perry returns leaving the Bears starting inside their own 20. He could have taken a few of those 11 kicks out, while on a few more he’s had trouble retrieving it cleanly and was forced to take a knee. Perry just doesn’t seem comfortable, nor is he playing to his speed. Perry only returned 22 kicks in college on average for 23.3 yards. In the punt game, veteran Santonio Holmes has one fair catch and two returns, on six opposing punts, for no yards. Four have landed inside the 20. It’s not enough of a sample size to evaluate, but it hasn’t look good so far.
When teams play with a lack of discipline, you have to wonder if the foe they are playing is causing them to play that way. The Bears have drawn the second-most penalties in the NFL after two weeks, with 25. The 49ers obviously boosted that total after getting flagged 16 times Sunday night. Conversely, the Bears’ next opponent, the New York Jets, have drawn a league-low seven penalties. Overall, penalties are way up after two games compared to 2013, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.