Is Charles Tillman changing the cornerback position?
That has been the talk this season, even though Tillman has been forcing fumbles with his uncanny ball punch since he entered the league in 2003.
In 148 games over his 9 1/2 seasons, Tillman has 36 forced fumbles, the most by a defensive back since the start of the ’03 season. Since the start of 2007, he has 28 in 85 games. This season, Tillman and his manic ball punch have forced seven fumbles in eight games.
So, something’s changing, and talk of Tillman’s sending the position in another direction blew up after he forced an incredible four fumbles against the Titans on Sunday.
I’m skeptical that Tillman is changing the game, but I can see how he might, and here’s why:
If the NFL continues its apparent attempts to legislate tackling out of the game, then Tillman’s strategy will become the most important way to play the position.
The league’s safety bent has reduced the intimidation of big hits. I don’t think the league wanted to eliminate big hits, but it has to act like it cares about humans in the face of potential billion-dollar trebeled damages for ignoring and/or hiding the dangers of hitting.
The NFL has gone to embarrassing extremes in making up rules that aren’t football and fining players who dare to play the game the way it was designed. Bears safety Chris Conte can give you a $21,000 explanation on the NFL’s Idiocracy.
Which means receivers can play braver than ever. Pass-catchers who wouldn’t have the, um, backbone to go over the middle several years ago suddenly have the courage of a league edict to protect the offensive skill players. May the flag be with you.
So now, a defense is working against the opposing offense and NFL wonks, also known as the defendants. What do you do?
A dominant pass rush is the best answer. If the quarterback is in traction or concussed, he can’t find open targets. It’s easier to mount a big pass rush these days because almost every offensive line is a mess at one or more spots. See the Bears for details.
But short of a hellacious defensive line, the main part of pass defense seems to be limiting yards after the catch. Teams have long searched for cover corners, but you can’t find more than a handful. Everybody else has to find some way to make a difference – some way to keep a job – and the ball punch looks like a tool for the masses.
It doesn’t require being exceptionally fast or quick. Same goes for a great vertical. Even corners who play off a receiver are close enough to make the tackle, and if you are close enough to make the tackle, you are close enough to take a shot at punching the ball loose.
So, it’s easy to see how the ball punch might change the way other defensive backs approach the position.
But good luck matching Tillman’s incredible ability to execute it.