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Storylines to watch in Bears’ return from bye week

As the Bears wake up from their slumber, here are a few storylines that will follow them around to finish off the year.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
Jordan Howard has gotten off to a slow start to the 2018 season. Will that change after the bye week?
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

With a week of rest behind them, the Chicago Bears will be returning to action on Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. They entered their bye week coming off of a three-game winning streak, and while one may argue that the timing of their week off could hinder their momentum, their schedule for the next month have multiple easily winnable games.

So far this year, Chicago’s defense has developed into one of the best units in the league. The offense, while not as dominant, has flashed signs of what it could become. As we enter the first game after their bye week, let’s take a look at a few storylines that bears fans should keep an eye on for the remainder of the year.

Is Mitchell Trubisky for real?

Mitchell Trubisky finally had his breakout game in Week 4 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With a 73.1 completion percentage, 354 passing yards, six touchdowns, no interceptions and 53 rushing yards on three attempts to boot, Trubisky looked the part of a franchise quarterback.

After what was easily the best performance of his young career, the signal caller must prove that his outing against the Buccaneers was not just a flash in the pan. Prior to said game, Trubisky’s footwork was sloppy. His decision making was often limited to just one read. His confidence was lacking. That said, he is going to need more than one game to prove that he can carry the Bears to the playoffs.

Chicago has more talent on their roster than they have had in years. While still early in the year, their defense has played the best it has since the days of Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman. A lot of their offensive success, though, has yet to be unleashed. If Trubisky can prove that he is the real deal, then the Bears could very realistically stay atop the NFC North.

Can Jordan Howard turn things around?

For his first two seasons, Jordan Howard was a true force to be reckoned with in the ground game. After consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, many expected the running back to carry on his momentum into 2018. So far, though, that has yet to be the case.

Howard has 203 rushing yards on 64 carries through four games: an average of merely 3.2 yards per carry. His ability to evade tacklers has been subpar as of late. He has struggled running outside of the tackles, and his ability to hit the hole as a downhill runner hasn’t been as good as he has shown in past seasons.

Granted, the Bears haven’t done a great job of making sure that he succeeds. As friend of Windy City Gridiron Johnathan Wood recently pointed out, Howard has seen 30 percent of his runs come against an eight-man front, nearly identical to his 31 percent against a six-man front. In addition to Chicago’s inability to give him favorable situations in which he can run the ball, their offensive line has not been able to consistently open up holes for him.

Howard entered the 2018 season as arguably the best proven talent on the Bears’ offense. If he can return back to old form - and if his surroundings allow him to do so - then they could become a much more dangerous unit.

Are the Bears a Super Bowl contender?

At 3-1, the Bears have one of the best records in the NFL. Their only loss came at the hands of Aaron Rodgers in a game that saw both Khalil Mack and Roquan Smith see limited playing time. All things considered, there are few teams who have had a better start to the regular season than the Bears.

But will they be able to keep that up?

Chicago still has the bulk of their divisional schedule left to go. Although none of the teams in the NFC North have been stellar to start the year, none of them can be considered pushovers, especially this early in the season. They also have the Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots left on their schedule, which will undoubtedly serve as tough matchups for them down the line.

The Bears have done a very good job to kick off the 2018 season. They’ve been able to pick up wins against rather lackluster competition, and they have made big plays on both sides of the ball. If they can keep up this level of play throughout the year, then they could make some noise in an NFC conference that is full of surprises early on in the year.