www.redeyechicago.com/news/ct-spt-1111-bears-essentials-pompei-chicago--20121111,0,1826867.column

redeyechicago.com

'Peanut Punch' a devastating blow

Tillman's penchant for creating fumbles certain to change ball carriers' mentality

Dan Pompei

On the NFL

4:28 PM CST, November 10, 2012

Advertisement

You now can purchase a "Peanut Punch" T-shirt.

You could have heard Charles "Peanut" Tillman talk about his penchant for forcing fumbles on his regular guest spot on WSCR-AM 670 Tuesday. Or you can hear him talk about it on ESPN (Rachel Nichols interview) and NBC (sit down with Bob Costas) in the pregame shows Sunday.

But the more exposure the "Peanut Punch" gets, the less likely it is to be effective.

"The more you guys talk about it and give away my secret, I feel it's harder to get them," Tillman said. "I liked it better when no one knew I did it. I could get it out easier."

Everyone knows what Tillman is doing because he is doing it so frequently.

With seven forced fumbles in 2012, he has one for every 6.1 tackles. Previously in his career, he had one forced fumble for every 24.8.

Forced fumbles are going to be more difficult to come by because ballcarriers are going to change the way they hold the football around Tillman — if they have brains, that is.

There is a potential benefit to the Bears in that too: Fewer yards after contact.

"They will be very aware of what could happen, so they will be conscious of ball security," Bears defensive backs coach Jon Hoke said. "Maybe it slows them down a little because they are thinking about it instead of running."

Tillman has an unusual knack for being able to tackle and punch at the same time. Hoke, a coach for 29 years, said he never has seen anything like it.

But at times Tillman will sacrifice yards to get more swipes at the football. It happened Sunday. While Tillman was taking three punches at the football, Titans tight end Craig Stevens picked up an extra nine yards. The play ended with a forced fumble, but the ball went out of bounds so the Titans did not lose possession.

The reason no one minded giving up the nine yards is the play started at the Titans' own 19-yard line. A few extra yards in that situation didn't hurt, so the potential reward was worth the risk.

"If it's third-and-5 and he's at four yards, just take him down, don't worry about stripping the ball," Tillman said. "It comes down to the situation."

Hoke said giving up critical yards while going for the football never has been an issue for Tillman. And he never has had to tell Tillman to pull his punches.

Even if the opponent is covering up with both hands and both arms, and even if the Bears are giving up some extra real estate, it still could pay off to keep swinging.

"If he hits it just right, it doesn't matter if you are ready for it, it's coming out," Hoke said. "I've seen it too many times."

So has every opponent on the Bears' schedule.

Numbers games: One WR offense

If, as Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips says, Brandon Marshall is the only receiver the Bears throw to, there is a reason.

When Jay Cutler throws to Marshall, his passer rating is 101.0 this year, according to STATS. When he throws to all other wide receivers, it is 71.4.

Cutler has thrown 90 times to Marshall, which is 58 times more than he has thrown to his next most-frequent target, Earl Bennett. Only three receivers have been targeted more than Marshall.

Cutler has completed 65.6 percent of his passes to Marshall. He has completed 60.9 percent of his passes to Alshon Jeffery, 56.5 percent of his passes to Devin Hester and 50 percent of his passes to Bennett.

When Cutler has targeted Marshall, he has gained an average of 8.86 yards. On his throws to all other wide receivers, it's 6.65.

And Cutler has been the most wide-receiver dependent quarterback in the NFL. He has targeted wide receivers on 71.5 percent of his passes — the highest percentage of any starter.

Front-office chess: McManis move

During preseason, the Bears were struggling to find a gunner for their punt team. They lost both from 2011 when Corey Graham and Zack Bowman signed with other teams as free agents (Bowman since has returned).

They knew they had one gunner they could count on in Eric Weems, who was a free-agent addition. They tried a number of players for the other spot — D.J. Moore, Rashied Davis, Jonathan Wilhite, Isaiah Frey and Greg McCoy — but no one stood out.

They were on the lookout for an upgrade when they decided they were not going to keep a fullback. They shopped Tyler Clutts, and the Texans were interested.

The Bears identified cornerback Sherrick McManis as a player who could help them because of his history as a gunner. He was not on the trade market, but the Texans knew they had to part with him to get Clutts.

Deal done.

On Sunday, McManis made it look like general manager Phil Emery's second best trade of the year when he blocked a punt the Bears returned for a touchdown. This Sunday, he will get a chance to show his former team what they are missing.

dpompei@tribune.com

Twitter @danpompei