|Cornerback Charles Tillman is getting lots of kudos, especially after holding the Lions' Calvin Johnson in check Monday. He may get an even stiffer test next when he matches up with Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith on Sunday. (US Presswire)|
Bears CB Charles Tillman might be the toast of Chitown after shutting down Detroit's Calvin Johnson and making interception returns for touchdowns in consecutive weeks, but his biggest test and a true measure of the Bears secondary might be stopping Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith this week.
Smith is to the Bears what Michael Jordan was to the New York Knicks or Cleveland Cavaliers. They have faced him only four times but have never stopped him.
"He is shorter, he's faster, he is a little bit quicker," Tillman said of the 5-foot-10, 12-year veteran. "He's a smaller guy, but he plays big.
"He's a nightmare to defenses and I think this will be another good matchup for this defense," Tillman said.
The 218-yard, 12-catch, two-touchdown game Smith had to eliminate the Bears from the playoffs after the 2005 season still haunts some of the veterans on the Bears defense. However, Smith's dominance against them doesn't stop there.
In four games he has 38 catches for 665 yards. They've never held him to less than 97 yards.
It's possible that the Bears are simply a bad matchup for Smith because Tillman can't rely on the physical style he did against Megatron.
"I don't know," Tillman said. "We're going to have to see.
"But we've won the games though, right. So? I don't know. We'll see Sunday what our success is."
The game film from last year included eight catches and 181 yards in damages, but Smith was only part of the blood-letting on the day for the Bears defense. The Panthers had 543 yards of offense in a 34-29 loss. They lost their last two games against the Bears, but one of those came with Smith injured.
So the Bears aren't buying into the notion that quarterback Cam Newton is having an off-year and the Carolina attack can't produce when it counts.
“He's still a good football player," LB Brian Urlacher said of Newton. "They haven't got going on offense yet.
"We watched last year's game against us quite a bit, and they gashed us," Urlacher said. "They had 500-something yards of offense. We're going off of that. We're not going off what they've done this year. We're going off what they did last year and what we need to do to stop them.”
It's not just the physical talent the Bears have to worry about. Carolina might have a better idea about how to beat Chicago's scheme than any team.
"A lot of their coaches have been in the system, know the system, played against the system," Bears S Chris Conte said. "So I think they'll be well prepared for us."
In addition to head coach Ron Rivera, the former Bears defensive coordinator, the Panthers have former Bears defensive line coach Eric Washington, former Bears defensive backs coach Steve Wilks, and former Bears offensive line coach Pete Hoener on staff. All were in Chicago under Lovie Smith.
Considering the Panthers also have former Bears TE Greg Olsen and a pair of highly paid -- if not overpaid -- RBs in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, in addition to Newton and Smith, it surprises the Bears that Carolina has scored more than 14 points in only two of its games.
"I think it's really a matter of time before they make some plays," Conte said.
Follow Bears reporter Gene Chamberlain on Twitter @CBSBears.