Burned by Smith, now Bears get Johnson
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Steve Smith's career numbers against the Bears are frightening. In three meetings, the Panthers start wideout has 34 receptions for 568 yards and two touchdowns versus Lovie Smith's defense, including eight catches for 181 yards in the Bears 34-29 Week 4 victory at Soldier Field.
With the exception of perhaps Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, no single player has inflicted more damage on the Bears defense since Smith took over in 2004 than the 5-9, 185-pound Carolina receiver.
"I got a lot of respect for Steve Smith," Bears cornerback Charles Tillman said Monday. "He is a little guy, but he plays big. He's tough. I don't know if he's got a little man syndrome, but it works, because it helps his game.
"He lit us up. Not good on our part."
That might be an understatement, but at least the Bears and Panthers play in different divisions. The same cannot be said, however, for Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson who the Bears face twice each year in the NFC North. Surprisingly, unlike Smith, the Bears have done a decent job of containing Johnson the past couple of seasons.
The Bears held Johnson to a combined seven catches for 111 yards and a single touchdown in the pair of 2010 meetings, although many argue the officials robbed Johnson of a touchdown reception at the end last year's regular-season opener. To be fair, Johnson has certainly had good games versus the Bears, but just one career 100-plus yard effort, which occurred back in 2009.
But those Detroit teams were bad. This year, the Lions are a perfect 4-0 heading into the Monday night match-up with the Bears at Ford Field, thanks in large part to the 6-5 Johnson hauling in an NFL best eight touchdowns.
That averages out to one touchdown for every three Johnson receptions (24) so far in 2011.
"I think he's extremely good," Tillman said. "He's probably the top receiver in the league right now as far as just throwing the ball up and just letting him go up and get it. He's the Goliath of receivers right now as they say. We, as a secondary, will definitely have our hands full of trying to contain him.
The 6-2, 198-pound Tillman has plenty of experience guarding tall receivers. Going all the way back to his first two years in the NFL (2003-2004), Tillman drew the task of defending then-Vikings receiver Randy Moss, who is listed at 6-foot-4.
"I think (Johnson) and Moss are similar," Tillman said. "I would probably say he's a little bit stronger than Moss. He has a great hand-eye coordination as far as catching the ball at its highest point. I don't think Randy Moss was that strong as Calvin. I think Calvin is just a little more physical than Randy Moss.
"He's in his own (league). To be that strong, that fast, his vertical...it's very impressive. No, he's in a league of his own."
Numbers hardly ever tell the whole story when it comes to the Bears defense, but an alarming trend has developed the last three weeks. In each of the last three games, the Bears have allowed a receiver to top 100 yards (Devery Henderson, Greg Jennings, Smith). That breakdown in coverage, especially deep coverage, does not bode well for the upcoming battle with Johnson.
"We just haven't played good," Tillman said about the defense. "We've missed some easy tackles, myself included. We definitely have to play defense way better. We have to play a lot better if we expect to win in Detroit because they are playing unbelievable right now."