Miller: Trestman faces his toughest challenge yet

Miller: Trestman faces his toughest challenge yet
September 25, 2013, 8:45 am
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Things sure look good for the 3-0 Chicago Bears. The defense continues to cause turnovers while the offense has improved its pass protection and has responded well when called upon in come-from-behind situations and playing with a lead. Now is the true test head coach Mark Trestman has been waiting to see. How is the team going to respond to adversity? It’s not just Jay Cutler who Trestman needs to see a response from; it’s cornerback Zack Bowman, defensive tackles Nate Collins and Zach Minter, and running back Michael Bush. All will be asked to do more at an early stage of the season.

Collins or Minter will need to step up due to the absence of Henry Melton, who suffered a torn ACL against the Steelers. The Bears will be fine without their franchise-tagged defensive tackle, and I would argue the recent injury bug hitting cornerback Charles Tillman or any injury to Forte would be far worse. Both are a little banged up as the Bears prepare to face the 2-1 Lions this weekend. Tillman has been dealing with a knee, but now a groin issue will also be problematic preparing for Lions wideout Calvin Johnson. Johnson is one of three receivers in NFL history to record more than 500 catches and more than 8,000 yards in fewer than 100 career games. Since 2008, Johnson leads NFL with 7,348 receiving yards and 53 touchdowns. When Johnson shattered Jerry Rice’s single-season record for receiving yards it was against constant double coverage the majority of the time.

Those numbers were impressive, but that production does not manifest for Megatron when facing Charles Tillman. In two games last year, Tillman held Johnson to eight receptions for 106 yards, a far cry from the 112 yards per game Johnson averaged on the season. No cornerback in the league has played Johnson better, let alone given the assignment to go one-on-one. If Tillman is not 100 percent, has to come out of the game, or worse yet cannot play, coverage assignments will have to change for the Bears. 

Then there's Forte. I’m sure all Bears fans cringed a little seeing Forte rolled up from behind when pass protecting for Cutler on Sunday night. Forte limped off the field and Trestman was forced to use Bush for a few plays. As critical as Tillman is to the Bears in pass coverage, forced fumbles, and interceptions, I would argue Forte equally has been the key piece on offense.  Going into this week, Forte and running back Jamaal Charles of the Kansas City Chiefs have been targeted the most in the NFL when coming out of the backfield as a receiver, with 18 targets apiece. Forte is averaging 75 rushing yards per game and 46 more as a receiver. Right now Forte is the most versatile, productive, and consistent running back in the league. Bush is a fine running back and athlete, but he is not going to stress out defenses as a receiver.

This week’s game against Detroit got more interesting with news that Nate Burleson, Detroit's No. 2 wide receiver, will be out with a broken arm sustained in a car accident. It could mean more targets go to Johnson. One tweak of the ankle to Forte could mean more targets for Bush. Detroit possesses the second ranked passing offense in the league at 336 yards per game. Chicago’s pass defense is 24th, yielding 294.3 yards a game. How will it fair against the league’s best wide receiver and a hobbled Charles Tillman? We already know how the offense has fared without Forte -- just watch last year’s Green Bay game in Lambeau when Forte left with an ankle injury. Adversity could hit the Bears this weekend and will force the responses Trestman is looking to see.