Everyone knows about what Charles "Peanut" Tillman did against Calvin Johnson on Monday night, but looking at his body of work over the season so far, it's fair to ask: is he the most important player on the Bears defense?
Charles Tillman has, for most of his career, been one of those guys who Chicago Bears fans know well but around the league isn't considered a star or a household name like other well-know corners like Darrelle Revis, Nnamdi Asomugha or Charles Woodson. In fact, Tillman might be one of the best CBs from his draft class, which includes Asomugha, Terence Newman, Ike Taylor (Tillman's college teammate) and Asante Samuel.
Tillman has been somewhat of an enigma to Bears fans, many felt he was overrated and some felt he was underrated. Overall though I am not sure if most fans thought the Bears couldn't survive without him. He's been consistent, but the last two seasons that's changed.
Last year Tillman finally broke through and got to a Pro-Bowl. Most Bears fans thought that that was a long time coming, but if you look at his stats, last season was not his best professional season.
So what has he done to follow it up? Well through six games in 2012 he's put forward what could be his best ever, he has two interceptions, both returned for touchdowns, four pass deflections, three forced fumbles, 24 tackles and one fumble recovery. (Those stats from PFR.com)
Yes he shutdown Megatron on Monday night, which is the feather in his 2012 season cap so far, but it's more than just that. According to Pro Football Focus, Tillman and teammate Tim Jennings are tied for seventh in the league among cornerbacks in pass rating allowed with 43.3, and while Tillman's completion rate allowed (60%) is higher than Jennings and highest among the top 10, he is being targeted far less than Jennings, to the tune of 25 less targets! 55 targets to just 30 for Peanut. Tillman is fifth among those top 10 CBs in targets.
That to me is telling because it says that opposing quarterbacks aren't even looking to Tillman's side for the guy he is on. That is always telling in a cornerback's stats and shows he is playing shutdown football. He's also allowed the third fewest yards on those completions, meaning when the receiver is making the catch he doesn't get too far after that.
He also has not allowed a passing touchdown, while intercepting two balls. So not only has he picked off more passes than he's allowed touchdown, he's also scored more touchdowns than he has allowed.
The Bears defensive line has been great this season, no doubt and that helps keep the overall targets of any of the cornerbacks down, but Tillman playing his man so well helps the defensive line get coverage sacks.
It's hard to say any cornerback is the most important player on his defense, unless it is a player like a Revis or Champ Bailey in his prime, or Deion Sanders, but Tillman is certainly one of the top two defensive players on the Bears this year. Lance Briggs is having an outstanding year, Julius Peppers is always playing well but with the way Charles Tillman is covering opposing WRs, it makes the whole unit better.
In today's NFL, with the emphasis on offense and passing, having a stud pass-rusher and a stud cornerback are arguably more important than ever. A shutdown corner can take a good quarterback out of his rhythm, something we saw on Monday and have seen it in other games against the Packers and Cowboys this year. A great corner can also take away an offense's biggest playmaker, like Tillman did against Calvin Johnson, but also keeping Dez Bryant, Jordy Nelson and Reggie Wayne out of the endzone, even if they did rack up yards and receptions.
Charles Tillman, with another strong performance Sunday, could find himself the second consecutive Bear to win defensive player of the month this season after Jennings won in September.
Hands down, Tillman has been one of the important players on the Bears this year. Period.