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Bears defense gearing up for Johnson

Posted by Larry Mayer on November 1, 2012 – 5:48 pm

The NFL’s top-ranked run defense will be challenged by one of the fastest and most elusive running backs in the league Sunday when the Bears face Chris Johnson and the Titans.

After struggling a bit last year following a prolonged contract holdout, Johnson has performed in recent weeks like he did when he rushed for 2,006 yards in 2009 and 1,364 yards in 2010.

“He’s explosive,” said middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. “He’s getting back to his form right now and they’re trying to run the ball more. Anytime he gets the ball he can go the distance, so we have to be in our gaps and run to the football like we always do.

“He’s a good running back. If there’s a hole there, he’s going to find it and hit it fast. We have to get in our gaps-that’s our game-plan every week-and run through our gaps and try to get in the backfield and make him change direction so we can get more guys to the football.”

The Bears run defense enters Week 9 allowing an NFL-best 77.9 yards per game. Johnson has compiled 91, 195 and 99 yards in his last three contests, and is tied for seventh in the league in rushing with 595 yards. Two weeks ago he had an 83-yard TD run in a 35-34 win in Buffalo.

“Chris Johnson is a home-run hitter,” said linebacker Lance Briggs. “Anytime he gets some daylight he’s a threat to score a touchdown right now. If he gets to our second level untouched, it’s going to be tough to get him.

“We just have to get up the field. We need to be very disruptive. We’ve got to get our hands on him and we’ve got to hit him. And when we get our hands on him, we’ve got to bring him down.”

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Bears cornerbacks make history

Posted by Larry Mayer on November 1, 2012 – 4:49 pm

Bears teammates Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings are providing some pretty compelling evidence that they’re the best cornerback tandem in the NFL.

Tillman has been selected the NFC defensive player of the month for October after Jennings won the award in September. The two are the first cornerbacks from the same team to claim the award in back-to-back months.

“It’s special to see that, and they are playing at such a high level,” said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. “They’re great players, and they’re doing a great job.”

Tillman was honored after returning interceptions for touchdowns in back-to-back games and holding Lions Pro Bowl receiver Calvin Johnson to three receptions for a season-low 34 yards. Jennings leads the NFL with a career-high six interceptions, one of which he brought back 25 yards for his first pro touchdown.

While the 6-2, 198-pound Tillman generally matches up against bigger receivers like Johnson, the 5-8, 185-pound Jennings shadows smaller, quick receivers such as the Panthers’ Steve Smith.

“He has his style; I have my style,” Tillman said. “I think it’s what makes our defense a little bit better than some, especially in years past the way we’re able to match up against different receivers. I definitely think that’s a bonus for us.”

Asked if he and Jennings should be recognized as the best cornerback tandem in the NFL, Tillman said: “I don’t know. We’re only halfway through the season, and I definitely think there’s some room for improvement with myself and Tim.

“The sky’s the limit. I definitely think we can, but you don’t get any awards halfway through the season for being the best cornerback tandem. I definitely think there’s potential for that. We’ve just got to keep doing what we’ve been doing; making plays, covering receivers, creating turnovers, getting our offense some good field position and scoring.”

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Bears hope to get Bennett the ball

Posted by Larry Mayer on November 1, 2012 – 2:01 pm

As they prepare to play their first NFL game in Nashville after starring together at Vanderbilt, Jay Cutler would like to get Earl Bennett more involved in the Bears offense.

After missing two games with a hand injury, Bennett caught three passes for 27 yards in a win over the Lions and had three receptions for 47 yards in last Sunday’s victory over the Panthers.

“I have a comfort level with him, so when he is out there I know he is going to get open if he’s one-on-one,” Cutler said. “He knows where he is supposed to be. It’s nice having him back out there and hopefully we can get him more involved whether it’s in the slot or outside.

“With the coverages we’re seeing with everyone rolling over the top of [Brandon Marshall], it’s opening some other lanes in the running game and for the other receivers. Other guys have to pick up and they’re going to for us.”

Bennett helped the offense awaken from a slumber last Sunday, catching passes of 24 and 11 yards on the final two plays of the third quarter. He also had a 12-yard reception on the Bears’ last possession to help set up Robbie Gould’s game-winning 41-yard field goal as time expired.

“[Bennett] was the reason things shifted for us on Sunday; making two big first-down catches really got us going,” Marshall said. “We definitely need to get him involved, and he’s healthy now so I’m expecting to see a lot of Earl. He’ll definitely open things up for us.”

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