Calvin Johnson has faced Charles Tillman every time he has taken the field against the Chicago Bears, a total of 11 times since coming into the NFL as the second overall pick in 2007.
That doesn’t mean they’re exactly close.
“We’re cordial. I can say that,” Detroit’s All-Pro wide receiver said on Wednesday. The one-word assessment -- "cordial" -- was followed by a short laugh.
Maybe it was a little difficult to be effusively warm and fuzzy about the cornerback who was largely responsible for denying him, at least for the time being, a place in NFL history.
In Week 17 of last season Johnson was bearing down on an unprecedented 2,000-yard receiving season. He had topped 100 yards in the previous eight games, twice amassing more than 200 yards. He was averaging 126 yards per game. Against the Bears, to reach 2,000, he needed just 108 yards, a number he had cleared by at least 10 yards in those previous eight games.
With Tillman in place the Bears limited him to five catches for 72 yards, more than 50 below his season average to that point.
It was not a fluke. When the teams met earlier in Chicago, Johnson set his season-low with three catches and 34 yards.
But football has always been a game of matchups and a cloud has formed over a big one for the Bears as they look toward the Lions on Sunday.
Tillman has effectively given the Bears better than just a chance of coping with the Lions All-Everything wide receiver.
But now Tillman is hurting, pulled from the Pittsburgh game with groin tightness possibly related to an ongoing knee problem that had him out of practice for a sizable portion of the pre-Steelers week. The situation was sufficiently serious that coach Marc Trestman said on Monday that Tillman was likely out of practice on Wednesday, which he was.
The Bears have a second Pro Bowl cornerback in Tim Jennings. But Jennings has not been matched up on Johnson and likely won’t be this week. Without Tillman, the starting job falls to Zackary Bowman (6 feet) or undrafted rookie surprise C.J. Wilson, who has yet to be active for a game, but really to the defense as a whole.
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The difference is that the Bears cannot afford to weight the defense unnaturally to compensate for Tillman issues. Still, Tillman at 6-2 and the NFL’s most prolific forcer of fumbles (39) through his career.
“He’s got maybe a little more unique skillset for corners,” said Detroit coach Jim Schwartz. “There’s not many corners that are 6-1, 6-2, whatever he is. He’s got long arms. He’s got really good awareness. He doesn’t panic on deep balls and things like that.
“What probably makes him unique is his ability to punch the ball out. He’s not just trying to make the tackle. He’s also attacking the football.”
Not very cordial, actually.