Soldier Field isn’t where pretty boy quarterbacks come to win adulation and pad their passing stats. Chicago has always glorified its “Monsters of the Midway” and visiting signal callers fear them.
These days, they don’t even look in Charles “Peanut” Tillman’s direction. As space age offenses continue phasing out the run and place a greater emphasis on the pass, cornerbacks who can snatch and run off the five finger discount are becoming more valuable with each passing day.
Tillman may not have the same physical stature or assignments defending the run as Brian Urlacher or Mike Singletary, but Tillman is a stick of dynamite at cornerback who can blow up offensive plays with the best of ‘em.
According to Pro Football Focus, in two matchups against the Lions’ Calvin Johnson last season, Tillman held Megatron to just 70 yards when he was in primary coverage. Detractors will note that Lovie Smith’s Cover 2 zone scheme masks secondary deficiencies, but in Tillman’s case you could argue that it’s been in reverse. The all-time interception leader in Bear’s franchise history should have more than two Pro Bowls to his name.
Interceptions aren’t even Tillman’s best method of forcing turnovers. He’s both a renaissance man and on the vanguard when it comes to the art of tackling. Wrapping up is one thing, but Tillman utilizes the sweet science after the catch to bolster his playmaker status. For a dude nicknamed Peanut, he packs a powerful punch. Tillman’s got quick and strong hands, which he uses to strike the ball loose from the grasp of ball carriers.
His consistent habit of putting Calvin Johnson to sleep, in the midst of his record-breaking season, may not have even been Tillman’s most notable achievement.
In a regular season win over the Tennessee Titans, Tillman forced four fumbles, setting a new NFL single-game record.
Like most great players Tillman isn’t bound by the parameters of his position’s conventional standards. Tillman’s pigskin pickpocketing is akin to RGIII’s running ability, J.J. Watt’s internal clock for pass swatting or Marshall Faulk’s pass catching out the backfield.
‘I guess I have gotten good over the years at punching, and if I don’t get the punch or the forced fumble, the majority of the time I get the tackle,” Tillman told The Chicago Tribune after his record-setting day. “It can misfire at times, but I would probably say 90, 95 percent of the time if I miss, or if I don’t get the forced fumble, I am pretty confident that I can get the tackle.”
For 10 years, Tillman’s been a paragon in the Bears secondary, but has also been wrongly omitted from discussions of the game’s best corners. In the post-Lovie and Urlacher era, opposing offenses better still fear Tillman.