Chicago vs. Detroit: Bears Key to Victory Is Slowing Down Calvin Johnson

Matt EurichAnalyst IDecember 26, 2012

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22: Calvin Johnson #81 of the Detroit Lions catches a pass in front of Charles Tillman #33 of the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on October 22, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Lions 13-7.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

On a Monday night back in October, the Chicago Bears improved their record to 5-1 and somewhat silenced the critics who thought they had not played top-level talent before facing the Detroit Lions.

In that Monday night contest, cornerback Charles Tillman held All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson to just three catches for 34 yards. The following week, Johnson was again shut down by the Seattle Seahawks secondary; but since then, he has posted eight straight 100-plus yard games and broke the single-season receiving yards record previously held by Jerry Rice.

The Bears' playoff hopes hang in the balance this Sunday and the Lions will do anything they can to keep a divisional rival from making the playoffs.

Offensively, the Bears know they need to improve, but given the fact that they will be facing off against a Lions defense that has struggled all season, they will be more concerned with stopping them from what they do best: move the football.

Tillman played arguably one of the best games of his career against Johnson in the previous meeting, which will likely push Johnson to play one of his best games of the season. 

His touchdown totals have been down this season, hauling in just five, but there is no doubt he is the best receiver in the game right now.  The Bears will have to find a way to shut him down like they did in October and it all starts with Tillman.

His success against Johnson was predicated on his ability to play with perfect technique for much of the game, highlighted by his pass deflection in the end zone on a first and goal from the one-yard line. He mostly played him with single coverage for the majority of the night, forcing the Lions to become stagnant on offense and more susceptible to turnovers.

An injury to safety Chris Conte has his availability in question for Sunday, meaning unproven Anthony Walters would likely take over his position (h/t Chicago Sun-Times). Although they used Tillman a lot in single coverage, the loss of Conte in the lineup may force the Lions to attempt to move the ball more down field, particularly with Johnson.

An injury to rookie Brandon Hardin in the preseason and one to veteran Craig Steltz that placed him on injured reserve on December 11th will put Walters in a position to prove his abilities on something other than special teams. The Bears likely won't want to ask too much of him if it indeed becomes his first start, making it all that much more important for Tillman to slow down Johnson.

If Tillman can once against shut down Johnson with single coverage, he will then make quarterback Matthew Stafford more likely to force throws and to make mistakes.  Despite other variables being needed for the Bears to make the playoffs this season, the most important is getting a win in Detroit, and it likely will not be possible unless they can shutdown the best wide receiver in the league.