In this week's edition of Five Questions, PFW publisher and editor and Bears expert Hub Arkush says Matt Forté is the Bears' best individual producer, but he's not their most valuable player.
1. Are you convinced Matt Forté is an elite back or do you think he's a very good back producing at an elite level? Is there a distinction that needs to be drawn there?
Arkush: The honest answer is, I just don't know anymore. He clearly is a lot better than I thought he was. All he does is pile up yardage behind one of the worst offensive lines in football and that's impressive, but there's nothing he does that makes you say "How'd he do that?" No unique moves, unbelievable speed, etc. I guess I think he's a very good back producing at an elite level and when you look at his career averages as opposed to just the last seven games — particularly average gain per carry, not total yardage — it's fair to continue to speculate whether he can maintain this and for how long.
2. Do you think Forté is the Bears' most valuable player?
Arkush: No, that'd be Brian Urlacher first, Lance Briggs second, Julius Peppers third and then Forté. Of the Bears' four wins, you have to chalk up all but the Panthers game to defense and special teams, so if Forté had the exact same numbers but the other guys hadn't played as well as they have the Bears would probably be 2-5. Forté is their best individual producer, but that's very different from most valuable player. I'm not sure where they'd be without him, but I know they'd be up a creek without Urlacher, or Peppers in the three games he's shown up for.
3. What's your assessment of CB Charles Tillman's performance this season?
Arkush: He's been very good, but not as good as he'd be at free safety. Peanut is a natural FS and I believe he would be a perennial Pro Bowler, but he's also the team's best corner and that's clearly why Lovie (Smith) leaves him there. Peanut does a nice job in coverage but will never be a shutdown-cover corner. His strengths are his strength, size and ability to get physical with bigger receivers, there isn't a running back or tight end in the league he can't handle, his speed is adequate and nobody in the game is better at stripping the ball out. He will get beat one-on-one on the corner occasionally because his speed is just adequate and he does take chances being physical. He's also been caught with a couple of poor decisions in cover-2 this year, either because he screwed up or he may be thinking too much trying to compensate for the terrible safety play.
4. Are you more confident that Chris Conte can do a solid job at free safety than you were before he made his first start two weeks ago?
Arkush: If so, just marginally. His first start he was a nonfactor, as all he did was line up 20-25 yards off the ball against a Vikings team that had no ability to challenge the Bears deep. In London vs. the Bucs he did some nice things, but consider the play he's getting all the credit for. On his interception at the goal line, if Mike Williams catches the ball with his hands like he's supposed to, or at least doesn't let the ball bounce off his chest as he tries to body-catch it, it's a TD and everyone's screaming about Conte being too far back in the endzone. He made a great play on the ball once it was made available to him but if Williams doesn't make two mistakes to let that happen … Like most of the Bears' safeties he's clearly an athlete, but I have no idea yet whether he's a football player or not.
5. The Bears released Chris Harris on Thursday. Will they miss him this season?
Arkush: The way he's played and considering his obvious unhappiness on the sidelines and in the locker room, they're clearly better off without him. I have no idea whether Major Wright can be the starting strong safety or not and I do have some serious concerns about pass coverage and open-field tackling based on what we've seen so far. Bottom line is you used a third-round choice on Wright a year ago and you have to find out right now whether he's the future or not because Harris clearly wasn't, and Brandon Meriweather can't be trusted.
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