In this week's edition of Five Questions, PFW publisher and editor and Bears expert Hub Arkush says Chris Harris is one of the most overrated Bears players.
1. Three games into the season, are you ready to say the Bears have fallen to being the third-best team in the NFC North?
Arkush: I was ready to say it before the season started, but I'm not ready to say it can't still change. There's no question the Packers are No. 1, but the defining moment is coming in Week Five when the Bears go to Detroit on Monday night. That game will decide whether this will be a two- or three-team race. Right now, the Lions appear to be a more complete team than the Bears, but that doesn't mean the Bears' star power on defense might not still be able to beat them. The Lions are going to be in the hunt all the way as long as Matthew Stafford and Ndamukong Suh stay healthy, but the Bears will need a win in Detroit to stay relevant.
2. Do you expect the Bears' running game to turn things around against a Panthers front seven that has been weakened by injuries?
Arkush: I expect the Bears to do better on the ground, and I expect them to commit more plays to the ground game, but the key to the Bears' running game isn't the play-calling or the opposition. It's getting Marion Barber back from injury to give them a little bit of a change of pace, take some pressure off the defense and the spotlight off of Matt Forté. Regardless of his production, Forté is not a complete running back. He's not a banger and he's not ideally suited for short-yardage or red-zone situations. Barber is. Getting Barber back on the field, 8-12 carries a game and a couple of third-down passes thrown his way will make the Bears' ground game better, make the offensive line look better and will make Forté that much more effective.
3. How much have the Bears missed Chris Harris over the past two games?
Arkush: I don't really think they have. Harris' leadership, experience and ability to "coach" the secondary and have people in the right place are all very valuable. But when it comes to production, all of the Bears' safeties are the same player — physical and tough against the run but liabilities in pass coverage. For all of Harris' knowledge, he gets beat deep in cover-2 as much as anybody and he can't cover wideouts man-to-man. Other than Devin Hester, — the wide receiver, not the returner — Harris is probably the most overrated player on the team. For what it's worth, the Bears were 13th vs. the pass, 15th in average gain per pass play and 21st in points allowed in 2009 when Harris was still in Carolina, and 20th vs. the pass, eighth in average gain per pass play and fourth in points allowed with him back in 2010. Obviously, the secondary play didn't really improve with his return and I expect the improvement in scoring "D" was more about getting Brian Urlacher back and adding Julius Peppers than Harris.
4. Kellen Davis is in the final year of his contract. Does he look like the long-term solution at tight end?
Arkush: Again, no. Under Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith the Bears have been notorious for handing starting positions to players who've done nothing to earn them on the field — i.e. Cedric Benson, Mark Bradley, Mark Anderson, Chris Williams, Frank Omiyale, Zack Bowman, Hester, etc. — and Davis is another in that long line. He is a very good athlete for a man his size, but the rap on him since Michigan State is that he's a notoriously deficient blocker for a man his size. When you look around the league at all the new kids at the position like Jermichael Finley, Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Pettigrew, etc., you have to ask yourself just what exactly is it that would excite anybody about Kellen Davis. I don't even know if he's a starter in the NFL let alone an answer.
5. Was Adam Podlesh the Bears' best free-agent addition of the offseason?
Arkush: So far, yes, but, unfortunately, at this point that's kind of like being the tallest midget — nothing negative intended for Podlesh or little people! It's not too early to write off Roy Williams, Sam Hurd and Chris Spencer as non-factors or to label Amobi Okoye as just another guy at the three-technique. But I still have high hopes for Marion Barber. I have no reason to believe he'll ever be able to stay healthy or be a consistent contributor, but as I explained above, I do think he can make a big difference in the ground game and therefore in the win-loss column if he can give the Bears 8-12 carries a game. Much like John Tait, Fred Miller and Ruben Brown all rekindled their careers in Chicago, I believe Barber will, too, if he can stay on the field.
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