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Even on Bears’ depleted defense, CB Tim Jennings tough to pass against

Cornerback Tim Jennings hauls one his two interceptions Oct. 10 against Giants. Quarterbacks have 59.3 rating when throwing his directithis

Cornerback Tim Jennings hauls in one of his two interceptions Oct. 10 against the Giants. Quarterbacks have a 59.3 rating when throwing in his direction this season. | AP

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Updated: November 28, 2013 6:42AM



Father Time is undefeated.

If you’re an NFL cornerback, he wins in the form of a younger, faster receiver streaking down the sideline for a touchdown.

Consider this, then: Bears cornerback Tim Jennings, who will turn 30 on Christmas Eve, still is doing what he does best. Quarterbacks throwing in Jennings’ direction have a 59.3 rating this season, the third-lowest in the NFL among cornerbacks who play at least three-quarters of their team’s downs, according to Pro Football Focus. He’s the oldest member of the top 10.

It’s remarkable, given his age, but it’s nothing new. Jennings finished second in the league last season, when quarterbacks had a 53.3 rating against him, and 10th in 2011, when they had a 68.8 rating.

So while there are many things wrong with the Bears’ depleted defense — no team in the NFL has given up more passing yards per play — Jennings isn’t one of them.

‘‘It’s a major concern,’’ Jennings said last week of the Bears’ defense. ‘‘I think it’s fixable. I know it’s fixable, for sure. We just gotta get back to being fundamentally sound and disciplined as a defense. That’s all we can worry about right now.’’

They can’t worry about what they don’t have, which is a lot. Linebacker Lance Briggs is out six weeks with a fractured shoulder, and linebacker D.J. Williams is gone for the season with a torn pectoral tendon.

Of the Bears’ four Pro Bowl defenders last season, tackle Henry Melton is out for the season, end Julius Peppers has one sack and cornerback Charles Tillman has missed one game (against the Giants) and major chunks of three others (against the Steelers, Lions and Redskins) with a knee injury. Jennings, the fourth member of the Pro Bowl group, has played 452 snaps, sitting out only four plays all season.

Consistency isn’t sexy. But
given the Bears’ injury woes on defense, Jennings might be the best they’ve got.

‘‘Guys know that now we have to take it upon ourselves to do our job better than we have,’’ said Jennings, who is in the last year of his contract. ‘‘We don’t have the guys we had at the beginning of the year [or] last year.’’

The Bears have lived off turnovers for years, and this season has been no different: They’re third in the league with 10 interceptions and tied for second with eight fumble recoveries.

‘‘We’ve got to tackle well,’’ defensive backs coach Jon Hoke said. ‘‘We can’t give up big plays. We just have to go get some takeaways.’’

The Bears’ starting secondary combined to score a horrendous minus-9.3 on Pro Football Focus’ grade sheet against the Redskins; Jennings was a minus-2.8.

The coverage problem doesn’t start in the backfield, though. The Bears have a popgun pass rush. Only three NFL teams rush the passer more ineffectively than the Bears, according to Pro Football Focus. Only nine cover the pass worse. Not surprisingly, the three best pass-rushing teams are also among the top five in pass coverage.

‘‘Is it gonna be perfect every time? No,’’ cornerback Zack Bowman said last week. ‘‘At the same time, all three units — the D-line, linebackers and the secondary — we all have to work together as a team.’’

Given its injuries, the Bears’ defense doesn’t figure to get more consistent any time soon, even as Jennings stays the same.

‘‘We just need every guy to do their job and be where he’s supposed to be,’’ Jennings said, ‘‘to pick up the slack now that Lance won’t be out there with us.’’

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com

Twitter: @patrickfinley



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