The first time the Bears took a look at Zack Bowman, the front office decided he wasn't worth a roster spot. A few years later, and Bowman has returned to fill in at cornerback for an injured Charles Tillman. Bowman has looked rough at times this year, but he had a strong showing at Cleveland to the tune of one interception and a decisive pick six.
Even in what could easily be considered a career game for Bowman, there were still a few glaring mistakes on his part. The biggest was this 44 yard slip screen in which Bowman probably got caught playing too far off of his man. First, just take a look at the play itself, with Bowman circled in yellow at the snap:
It's hard to say exactly what the assignments where here - was Bowman backpedaling at the snap to play a high zone, or were both he and Tim Jennings playing man coverage here? Given the decisive way that Jennings covers the slot receiver after the snap, my best guess is that Bowman was trying to cheat back a little too much and got caught out of position. Regardless, the receiver lined up across from Bowman at the snap went on to rack up 44 yards on this catch-and-run, a play we pretty much must lay at Bowman's feet.
That's just the thing about the defensive backs, especially in the Tampa 2 system the Bears are still nominally playing: there's not much room for mental mistakes by the defensive backs. I need not enumerate the mistakes made by the Bears safeties this season, and as we saw above, Bowman has proved equally prone to mental errors. While watching the tape of him throughout the first half, this was the only major mistake he made, but this major mistake put points on the board for the Browns.
With that said, Bowman atoned for sins both major and minor with a pair of picks off of former Bear Jason Campbell. On that first play, we see Bowman getting caught off-guard by a bit of offensive trickery, but on the interception Bowman notched later in the first half, we see the two-time Bear at his best.
Here, the Browns are running a set of crossing routes in front of Bowman with a goal of turning the zone coverage around and opening up the sideline. Bowman, however, shows his veteran knowledge on this one. First, #38 redirects the receiver in front of him into the linebacker zone. Then, Bowman immediately gets in a fast backpedal to cover TE Jordan Cameron out of his slot route, with Bowman keeping his eyes on the QB at all times. With his eyes on the ball the whole time, Bowman was able to come up with an easy interception in front of the big TE.
Even with this and his other pick in the game, did Bowman still play overly conservative coverage at times, giving the WR or TE a huge cushion? Yes. Did Bowman miss a few run fits? Also yes. Still, Bowman has been exactly what the Bears needed when Charles Tillman went down for the season - a solid presence at the #2 CB spot who isn't going to make too many mistakes.
If - and that's a big if - Tillman does not re-sign with the Bears next season, I would be okay with Zack Bowman battling it out for a spot on the roster, and wouldn't be too surprised if he won the position. He's not great by any means, but he's average enough that he won't lose you games, something the team can't currently say about many other position groups on the defense. With Bowman signed on a discount deal to back up one (or more) of the Pro Bowl CBs in front of him, Phil Emery might be more free to go out and fill positions of greater need and stand pat for another year with the CBs already on the roster.
With a defense full of holes, Bowman gets the "good enough" rating from me. Let's just hope that he's able to push that "good" into "great" against the Eagles and knock Nick Foles' QB rating down a few ticks.