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Tillman leading the way for Bears' potent defense

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Tillman leading the way for Bears' potent defense

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) Charles Tillman was asleep when President Obama gave him a big shout out on ESPN.

It's one of the few times he wasn't locked in.

The star cornerback has been turning heads everywhere with his play, even at the White House, and so have his teammates on the Chicago Bears' defense.

A group that came into the season with some question marks is supplying plenty of answers and leading the way for a team that's 7-1 heading into Sunday's showdown with the Houston Texans.

A big part of that is Tillman, the guy Obama touted for defensive player of the year during an interview aired Monday night.

The praise came on the heels of Tillman forcing four fumbles in a 51-20 blowout of Tennessee the previous day.

``It was a great honor. I was actually asleep when he did the interview. I go to bed early - four kids,'' said Tillman, whose wife is expected to give birth to their fourth child in the next few days. ``I was asleep, but I had a bunch of text messages that morning when I woke up. I definitely thought it was cool to get mentioned from our Commander-in-Chief. Thanks for the shout out.''

It's even better in a season like this.

The Bears lead the NFC North, and the defense is a big reason why. Few teams have been as dominant in that area, Houston being an exception, and the way they're shutting down opponents is raising eyebrows.

A defensive line that was widely considered a weakness even with Julius Peppers is getting contributions from all over, and the Bears are tied for third in the NFL with 25 sacks. Eight more and they match last season's total.

But it's not just the pressure they're getting; it's the takeaways they're creating.

No defense has been more relentless. Chicago leads the league in takeaways (28) and turnover differential (plus 16), and their seven defensive touchdowns tied the 1942 team's record. All have come on interception returns, which puts them third on the NFL's single season list behind the 1998 Seattle Seahawks (eight) and 1961 San Diego Chargers (nine).

``To have 28 in eight games is incredible,'' Houston offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said. ``Some teams wish for that in two years, so they're always looking to get the ball. It all starts up front. They do a great job of pressuring and making sure you rush and putting your offensive linemen on an island at times from what they do. They work very hard at it and they're good at it.''

Takeaways have been a hallmark of the Bears' defense ever since coach Lovie Smith took over in 2004. They lead the league with 294 during that span and are second in interceptions (174) and fumble recoveries (120), but what's happening this season is nothing short of extreme.

Brian Urlacher said he hasn't seen anything like it.

``At any given time on Sunday, anyone on this defense can score,'' he said. ``We didn't have that back in the day.''

Then, there's Tillman, who finally made the Pro Bowl last season and is raising more eyebrows this year, whether he's picking the ball off or punching it out of opponents' arms.

In his 10th season, he leads the league with seven forced fumbles, and he made history with Lance Briggs earlier in the year when they became the first pair of teammates to return interceptions for touchdowns in back-to-back weeks.

For a guy who was overshadowed for most of his career, he sure is getting plenty of attention these days.

``He should've been getting it for the past 10 years,'' Briggs said. ``He's played at a high level. He's an elite player and has always played at a high level. Now, in Year 10, he's taken it up to another level. He's a defensive-player-of-the-year type player. He's a core, he's a leader and he's one of our best players.''

And he's going strong in his 30s, just like Briggs and Peppers. Urlacher's had a rough time recovering from a knee injury, but he's also coming off his best game after returning an interception for a touchdown, forcing a fumble and recovering one in last week's blowout win at Tennessee.

It was another good sign for a defense that's been, well, looking good.

``The chemistry on this group is special,'' defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. ``Guys are coachable. A big part of anything you do, you've got willing men, coachable, and we have a lot of fun.''

NOTES: WR Alshon Jeffery (hand), DT Matt Toeaina (calf) and Urlacher (coach's decision) did not practice Thursday. ... DE Israel Idonije (ankle) and DT Henry Melton (back) were full participants after being limited the previous day.

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Game 60: Capitals vs. Lightning Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

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USA TODAY Sports

Game 60: Capitals vs. Lightning Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: 7:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Lightning will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Lightning game on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

You can also stream the game online with no cable TV subscription on fuboTV (try for free!).

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-LIGHTNING GAME?

The Capitals (34-18-7) take on the Lightning (39-17-3) Tuesday, February 20 at 7:00 p.m. ET in Washington.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-LIGHTNING GAME ON?

The Capitals-Lightning game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off with Capitals FaceOff at 6:00 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 6:30 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington for Caps Extra following the game, Caps Overtime at 10:00 p.m. and Caps in 30 at 11:00 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
6:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:00 p.m. — Capitals vs. Lightning
9:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:00 p.m. — Caps Overtime
11:00 p.m. — Caps in 30

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR THE CAPITALS-LIGHTNING GAME?

Here are the projected lines for the Caps-Lightning game:

Forwards
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Andre Burakovsky
Chandler Stephenson - Jay Beagle - Devante Smith-Pelly

Defensemen
Christian Djoos - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Madison Bowey

Braden Holtby starts with Philipp Grubauer as backup

Scratches: Alex Chiasson, Taylor Chorney

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-LIGHTNING GAME?

The Capitals-Lightning game, as well as Caps GameTime and Caps Extra, is available to stream live here through NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and is available to authenticated NBC Sports Washington subscribers on desktops, tablets, mobile devices and connected TVs anywhere in the United States.

The game is also available to stream, along with all the pregame and postgame shows, on fuboTV (try for free).

CAPITALS-LIGHTNING OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.

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Need to Know: Redskins' Junior Galette will be a valued free agent

Need to Know: Redskins' Junior Galette will be a valued free agent

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, February 20, 22 days before NFL free agency starts.

I’m out this week so I’ll be re-posting some of the best and most popular articles of the past few months. Some may have slightly dated information but the major points in the posts still stand. Thanks for reading, as always.

Galette to be a valued free agent

Originally published 12/13/17

Like the Redskins, the Broncos are no longer relevant in 2017. Both teams’ fan bases have started to look towards the coming offseason.

To give their readers what they want, the Denver Post published an article by Mike Renner of Pro Football Focus that discussed some of the top pending free agents who have done the most to increase their values in the past year. There were two Redskins named, one you would expect to see on such a list and one that might surprise some people.

Kirk Cousins is at the top of the list. “The Washington signal-caller is grading as a top-10 quarterback (82.8), and soon he’ll have the long-term contract of one,” Renner wrote. “Only this time its value will be exponentially higher than any one he would have signed back when he first became a free agent in 2016.”

But the surprising name is that of Junior Galette. After missing the last two seasons with two torn Achilles tendons, he played this year on a one-year, $800,000 deal. And while he hasn’t been on fire in the sack department with just two on the year, he has been getting pressure on the passer.

“He’s accumulated the 27th-highest pass-rushing grade of any edge defender this season, but in only 264 snaps,” wrote Renner. “At 29 years of age, it’s doubtful he ever gets back to the level of the contract that he once had on the table with New Orleans. With how he’s played this season though, some pass-rush-needy team will pay handsomely for his services.”

One team that could be considered to be pass rush needy is the Redskins. Preston Smith is the starter and supposedly one of the Redskins’ top pass rushers. But in 100 fewer pass rush snaps this year, Galette has only three fewer quarterback hits than Smith and six more hurries.

And after missing those two seasons, Galette has remained healthy. Although he was limited with a hamstring during much of the preseason, he has not missed a practice or appeared on an injury report this year.

But would the Redskins be willing to pay him “handsomely”? Perhaps a good comp would be Connor Barwin, who moved from the Eagles to the Rams this past offseason at the age of 31. He had five sacks in Philly in 2016. That got him a one-year deal worth $3.5 million.

Barwin likely will have more sacks on his ledger going into free agency so let’s say Galette could command around $3 million. Perhaps he could offer Washington a bit of a hometown discount and agree to something in the $2.75 million range. If that is the case, the Redskins would be smart to keep him around for another year.

Plenty of things could alter the equation. If Galette gets hot in the last three games and posts a few more sacks his price could rise. With Smith and Ryan Kerrigan both back next year, perhaps Galette will want to go somewhere that he might get more playing time.

The details need to be sorted out but don’t be surprised if Galette gets a lot of attention in free agency, as much as teams need pass rush, and if the Redskins have to make a very tough decision about how much he is worth.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

Timeline  

Days until:

—NFL Combine (3/1) 9
—NFL Draft (4/26) 65
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 201