Each week throughout the season we'll ask five questions of PFW publisher and Bears expert Hub Arkush to get his analysis on some of the top issues facing the team. This week, Hub evaluates Lovie Smith's performance in the first half of the season and says the Bears can't afford to get swept by the Vikings in 2010.
1. On Monday, Lovie Smith said: "We're a good football team, and, in time, we'll prove that more and more. I like our position." Do you like the Bears' position heading into the second half of the season at 5-3?
Arkush: You have to like the fact the Bears are 5-3 and very much in the middle of the NFC North and wild-card races. But objectively, you have to note they’ve had a very easy schedule, which gets very difficult in the second half while their main competition, Green Bay and Minnesota, are through the worst of their schedules. The Bears absolutely must get at least a split in their two games against the Vikings. If Minnesota sweeps them, the rest of the second half could get very ugly.
2. How well did Smith do his job in the first half?
Arkush: I’d give Lovie Smith a B or B-plus for the first half. The defense is his specialty and while Rod Marinelli is also doing a great job, this "D" clearly has Lovie’s imprint all over it and it has overachieved. The offensive line and wide receivers have severe talent deficits and yet somehow Lovie has them in the thick of the chase. It’s easy to pick out all the problems with the Bears, but a head coach has to be judged first and always on his record, and at 5-3, he's gotten a lot more out of this team than they appear to deserve.
3. The Bears didn't have much success running against the Bills, who were ranked 32nd vs. the run. After all the complaints about not running the ball enough, should Mike Martz remain committed to the ground game or go back to throwing the vast majority of the time?
Arkush: If that was the best the Bears could manage vs. the Buffalo run "D," committing to a certain number of run plays per game come hell or high water would be suicide. If the Bears are going to compete against a significantly higher level of talent in the second half, they're going to have to trust Martz to find offense and points through the air however he best sees fit. That's why he was hired, and their ground game will not get it done.
4. Jared Allen seemed to finally get going against the Cardinals in Week Nine. Do you see him keeping it up against the Bears' offensive line?
Arkush: Allen would appear poised for a big game at Soldier Field, but I'm troubled by how invisible he was prior to the Cardinals game. I was on the sidelines for Westwood One Radio for the Vikings' game against the Packers and was stunned by how inactive he was. People gave Chad Clifton a lot of praise for that game, but I didn't see Allen challenging him at all. If the light went on against the Cards, then the Bears need to beware, but I wonder if there isn't something else going on with Allen.
5. Does Tim Jennings deserve to keep his starting job when Zack Bowman recovers from his foot injury, or is it worth giving Bowman another shot?
Arkush: Bowman has a lot greater upside than Jennings, but he had lost the job to the smaller Jennings prior to his injury with his inconsistent play, and I'm not sure how you justify going back to him now until he does something on the field to earn it. Jennings has played better than anyone expected but hasn't exactly been a shutdown corner and, again, it gets a lot tougher in the second half. The play of the Bears' secondary was the biggest surprise of the first half of the season to me, but I suspect its performance had a lot to do with who they played and I wouldn't be surprised if both Bowman and Jennings are exposed quite a bit more the rest of the way.