LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears return to work from their bye week at 3-5 -- the identical record the team had after eight games in 2015.
That year -- John Fox's first in Chicago -- the Bears finished 6-10.
A repeat performance of 2015 would be a disappointment.
The Bears have a much better roster in 2017, not to mention a more favorable second-half schedule with upcoming games against San Francisco, Cleveland and Cincinnati.
Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers is also unavailable for the Bears' rematch against the Packers on Sunday.
Many things have to happen for the Bears to crack seven wins, but it's doable.
1. Defensive dominance: It's hard to picture the Bears defense playing any better than they are right now under coordinator Vic Fangio. Without a single Pro Bowl player on defense, Chicago entered Week 9 ranked eighth in total defense (312). Over the past three games, the Bears have forced eight turnovers and scored three defensive touchdowns. Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks has already tied a career high with seven sacks. Cornerback Kyle Fuller is actually looking like a first-round pick. Linebacker Danny Trevathan has played inspired football since serving a one-game suspension for an illegal hit on Green Bay's Davante Adams. Leonard Floyd has five sacks. The Bears will be competitive every week as long as the defense stays at the current level.
2. Trubisky time: The Bears have been extra cautious with Mitch Trubisky. The rookie has attempted 80 passes in four starts. Mike Glennon threw the ball 140 times over four weeks before he got benched. Trubisky has to protect the football for the Bears to win, but he's the second overall pick. It's OK for him to throw a little more after the bye. The Bears rank 28th overall in points scored (16.8). The passing game, led by Trubisky, has to be better over the final two months.
3. Weapons, please? Of course, Trubisky needs guys who can catch the ball. The Bears had arguably the NFL's worst collection of wide receivers in the first half of the season. Veteran Dontrelle Inman, acquired from the Los Angeles Chargers, has to be a player. Markus Wheaton, expected back from a groin injury, has to give the Bears something -- Wheaton is making $6 million in 2017 and has one catch for 18 yards. Tre McBride had a nice game versus the Saints, with three receptions for 92 yards. Hopefully, McBride builds on that. The Bears have to replace productive tight end Zach Miller. Can second-round pick Adam Shaheen play a larger role? And Tarik Cohen needs more touches. The Bears have a lot of work to do in this department.
4. Pound the rock: The Bears' strength is still the running game. Yes, they have to be multidimensional on offense. They can't run the ball 80 percent of the time. But Jordan Howard has already rushed for 662 yards. You can't ignore him. Cohen has also experienced success on the ground this year (228 yards). The Bears paid a ton of money to four of their five offensive linemen (Josh Sitton, Kyle Long, Charles Leno and Bobby Massie). Chicago has no shot unless it wins at the point of attack. And for that money, the Bears should control the line of scrimmage on most plays.
5. Nothing special here: The Bears really need a lift on special teams in the second half. Kicker Connor Barth is just 7-of-11 on field goal attempts. That's not good enough. The Bears' coverage team allowed two return touchdowns in Baltimore in Week 6. That's definitely not good enough. Outside of punter Pat O'Donnell's 38-yard touchdown pass to Benny Cunningham on a trick play in Week 5, it's hard to remember special teams doing much to help the cause in the John Fox era. That's not good enough.