Tillman on course for NFL defensive player of the year?


Tillman on course for NFL defensive player of the year?

Bears cornerback Charles Tillman was named NFC defensive player of the week for his performance against Calvin Johnson in the Bears 13-7 win over the Detroit Lions last Monday. It was his second win in the last three weeks, having received the same honor for his play in the Jacksonville game, when he returned an interception for a touchdown for the second straight week.

Tillman is a favorite to add the award for NFC defensive player of the month next week, with two weekly awards in the five October weekends.

But Tillman, who was overlooked in Pro Bowl considerations for his career until last season, is moving into rarified air. His work is expected to move him into the discussion for NFL defensive player of the year.

History and hype against him

Tillmans chances are modest at best. The play and accompanying hype of Houston Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt for his sacks and deflections make him the favorite at this juncture.

Indeed, only five players in the 40-year history of the DPOY award have been cornerbacks and three of those were on Super Bowl winners. Three of the four eligible were installed in the Hall of Fame and the fifth is headed there.

Mel Blount (1975) won as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Lester Hayes (1980) won a Super Bowl as an Oakland Raider. Rod Woodson (1993) didnt reach the Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers but he did and won with the Baltimore Ravens in 2000, after hed moved to safety, something Tillman and the Bears arent planning in Chicago just yet.

Deion Sanders (1994) played one year with the San Francisco 49ers but made it count for a Super Bowl.

The Woodson template

The Green Bay Packers didnt win the Super Bowl in 2009 with DPOY Charles Woodson but they and he were posting Bear-like numbers that season. And team performance is unquestionably key for the award.

The Packers ranked No. 2 in yardage allowed in 2009; the Bears currently are sixth in yardage but No. 1 in scoring defense. Green Bay had 30 interceptions; the Bears have 14 through six games.

The Packers led the league with 40 takeaways in Woodsons DPOY season; the Bears have 21 through six games.

Tillman needs more than his two interceptions, however. Woodson posted his career high of nine and returned three of them for touchdowns.

Timing matters

But Tillman already has had two pick-sixs. More important perhaps, he has done some of his finest work on the national stage.

Woodson won DPOW (weekly) for his play against the high-profile Dallas Cowboys. Tillman returned his first interception for a touchdown at Dallas, and did it on MNF.

Woodson won his second DPOW for his shutting down of Calvin Johnson, holding the Detroit wideout to two catches, one for a touchdown. In winning his own second DPOW, Tillman limited Johnson to three catches, none for a touchdown.

Woodson was savvy enough to do it to Johnson in a Thanksgiving Day game. Tillman doesnt play on Thanksgiving this year but he did do his work on Johnson on the MNF platform.

After the Bears games vs. Carolina and at Tennessee, the Bears play Houston in the Sunday night prime-timer on NBC (think the network can find a story line with Tillman and Watt in the same game?)

Then they are at San Francisco eight days later for another Monday Night session.

Nothing is ever really settled in six games. But Tillman already has played his way where no Bears cornerback has gone before.

A lots been said about this over-the-hill defense gang that we have, said coach Lovie Smith. I just know that last year Charles went to the Pro Bowl at that age and he had a career year. I just know hes a good football player right now.

Maybe even the NFLs best one on defense.

Bears Talk Podcast: What's next for Bears at QB after Brian Hoyer suffers broken arm?


Bears Talk Podcast: What's next for Bears at QB after Brian Hoyer suffers broken arm?

Lance Briggs, Alex Brown and Jim Miller break down where the Bears go at QB following Brian Hoyer’s injury and evaluate the defense’s gutsy performance on Thursday night against the Packers despite numerous injuries. Plus, a look at the big picture and who can help the Bears down the road.

Check out the latest edition of the Bears Talk Podcast here:

Anthony Rizzo/Javier Baez antics show how this Cubs team doesn’t feel the same weight of history

Anthony Rizzo/Javier Baez antics show how this Cubs team doesn’t feel the same weight of history

LOS ANGELES – Within minutes of the last out on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, ESPN’s @SportsCenter account sent out a photo of Moises Alou at the Wrigley Field wall to more than 30 million Twitter followers: “The last time the Cubs were up 3-2 in an NLCS was Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS vs. the Marlins. Most remember it as ‘the Bartman Game.’”

As Kerry Wood once said: “Irrelevant, dude.”
Look, the Cubs still need to find a way to beat either Clayton Kershaw or Rich Hill this weekend, with Kenley Jansen resting and waiting for the multiple-inning saves. The obligatory description for Kershaw is “the best pitcher on the planet.” Hill’s lefty curveball – and “the perceptual velocity” of his fastball – freezes hitters. Jansen has a mystical cutter reminiscent of the great Mariano Rivera. The top-heavy part of this Los Angeles playoff pitching staff has held the Cubs to zero runs in 16.1 innings.

But until proven otherwise, forget about this idea of a Cubs team weighed down by the history of a franchise that hasn’t played in the World Series since 1945.

Just look at Javier Baez getting in Anthony Rizzo’s airspace during Game 5, the human-highlight-film second baseman standing right next to the All-Star first baseman as he caught a Kike Hernandez pop-up for the second out of the third inning.

It didn’t matter that this was a 1-0 game and MVP-ballot players Justin Turner and Corey Seager were coming up. This is what the 2016 Cubs do. Rizzo caught the ball, quickly flipped it underhand and it bounced off Baez’s chest – in front of a sellout crowd of 54,449 and a national Fox Sports 1 audience.

“We always mess around,” Rizzo said at his locker inside a tight clubhouse jammed with media after an 8-4 win. “So I’m screaming: ‘Javy! Javy! I got it! I got it, Javy, I got it!’

“And usually he’ll yell at me: ‘Don’t miss it!’ Or I’ll yell at him: ‘Don’t miss it!’

“We do that a lot. If it’s a pop-up to him, I’ll go right behind him. It’s just little ways of slowing the game down and having fun, too.”

Rizzo is a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman for a team that led the majors in defensive efficiency this year. As a super-utility guy, Baez got credit for 11 defensive runs saved in 383 innings at second base, or one less than co-leaders Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler, who each did it in almost 1,300 innings.

“Sometimes when I call (Rizzo) off to get a fly ball, he starts talking to me,” Baez said. “I tell him: ‘Hey, you can do whatever you want. Just don’t move my head. You can touch me if you want. Just don’t move my head.’

“And I told him to be ready for it, because I was going to do the same thing. You just got to be focused on the fly ball. No matter what’s happening around you, you just got to catch it.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

This isn’t about Bartman. It’s about a group of young, confident players who are growing up together and absolutely expect to be in this position. It’s manager Joe Maddon designing “Embrace The Target” T-shirts and telling them to show up to the ballpark whenever they want and then blow off batting practice.

“For sure, we’re relaxed,” said Baez, who’s gone viral during these playoffs, the rest of the country witnessing his amazing instincts and flashy personality. “I’m relaxed when I play defense.”

The thing is, Rizzo and Baez could be playing next to each other for the next five years, the same way Kris Bryant and Addison Russell will be anchoring the left side of the infield.

This is how Rizzo introduced Russell to The Show when a natural shortstop tried to learn second base on the fly last year and track pop-ups in front of 40,000 people: “Hey, watch out for that skateboard behind you! Don’t trip!”

“Oh yeah, we yell at each other all the time,” Rizzo said. “It’s just one of those things where you got to stay loose.”