We're one week shy of the official halfway point of the Bears' season, but because the team is off, why not use this bye week quiet time as a good time to evaluate things at the "halfway" point?
Let's revisit the Bears' 10 biggest concerns as we entered The Trestman Era, whether it was at the start of camp, or the eve of the Bengals game...seven weeks ago.
1. The level of offensive improvement (a.k.a. "The Jay Grade")
Last year's offense actually slipped from the 2011 season, despite the record-setting addition of Brandon Marshall. Under Trestman -- Jay Cutler's fourth play-caller in five years here -- the attack has averaged 60 more yards per game than 2012, and is second in the NFL in points per game (30.4). That's exactly what the Bears needed and what fans were looking for, right? Jay seemed on track to earn a rich, multi-year deal in his contract year before ripping up his groin. Wished we could've seen how he'd have fared in Green Bay. Now, we're looking at a franchise tag with an "incomplete" for Cutler, and seeing if Josh McCown can keep this boat afloat.
2. Offensive line
From Webb-Spencer/Rachal/Brown-Garza-Louis/Carimi-Carimi/Scott...to Bushrod/Slauson/Garza/Long/Mills. During Cutler's first four seasons in Chicago, he was sacked an average of 37 times, but has been taken down just 10 times through seven games. Mills remains on a pass-protection learning curve, but just check out where most of the significant runs are broken: the RRS (rookie right side). Bears fans will take that any time over Carimi and then J-Webb Nation. It's just unfortunate that the 10th sack they allowed this season could shape the second half.
3. Matt's Forte
When Trestman was hired, getting the most out of Matt placed a significant second behind getting the most out of Jay. Everyone pointed to Charlie Garner's 119 average yards from scrimmage under Trestman in 2002 with the AFC champs in Oakland. Forte was en route to breaking his personal single-season receptions mark from his rookie season two years ago when he went down in Game 12, two weeks after Cutler was injured. Through the Redskins game, Forte is averaging 113 yards per game. Good enough?
4. Passing game diversity
2012, in order of receptions: Marshall 118, Forte 44, Earl Bennett 29.
2013, in order of receptions: Marshall 46, Forte 35, Alshon Jeffery 34, Martellus Bennett 32
5. Tight end production
Martellus is very quietly working his way through aches and pains, but is single-handedly doing a job above and beyond what this team ever got from Kellen Davis, Kyle Adams and Matt Spaeth a year ago. Bennett's 32 receptions, 356 yards and four touchdowns compares quite favorably with the position's production over the past two seasons (in 32 games): 54 catches for 533 yards and 10 touchdowns.
6. Can the defense maintain?
This isn't about Brian Urlacher. No one else stepped up to sign him for even less than the Bears offered. This seems more about swings and misses over the past decade of drafts, and no one in place to pick up the slack when age or injuries sneak up on the Peppers' and Tillman's as they did with Urlacher. And now Briggs. While the offense is averaging 60 more yards a game, the defense is allowing 75 more yards than their final average of a year ago. While the offense is averaging seven more points per game than a year ago, the defense is allowing a dozen more points per game. The 206 total points is third-worst in the NFL. The team didn't give up that much in 2012 until its 13th game. It's already surpassed the total of the 1985 Bears (198).
7. Life without Urlacher
As referenced above, 31 other teams had the same feelings about the future Hall of Famer that his only team did. Or worse. There were no offers, as opposed to the Bears' take-it-or-leave-it. But once D.J. Williams hit his stride shortly before his season-ending injury, the question is whether Urlacher could've provided more, if he'd have stayed healthy, as well. Spirit and leadership counts, but with two of the top three defensive tackles going down, Tillman struggling with his health, and Peppers just downright struggling, Urlacher-for-Williams is a wash, at the very worst.
8. The pass rush
Peppers, Shea McClellin and Corey Wootton had combined for 11 sacks through seven games a year ago. They've combined for just two-and-a-half at the same point this year. Yes, Henry Melton's gone. Wootton's playing the Good Soldier and deserves a mulligan in his contract year for being a team player and moving inside for the first time. The D-Line combined for 38 of the team's 41 sacks in 2012. They've combined for four of the nine this season. I've wondered since July whether bringing back Israel Idonije (7-1/2 sacks a year ago playing inside and outside) wasn't worth the investment. A difference-maker? No. But reliable, steady, experienced, and a "presence." Your opinion may differ. Either way, say a prayer for defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.
[RELATED -- Urlacher: McClellin built for linebacker position]
9. Special teams/Devin Hester
The units that ranked in the Top 10 in eight of nine years under Dave Toub have struggled this season among some very bright moments. Devin Hester snapped a nearly two-year drought without a kick return touchdown last weekend and had a record-setting day in Week 2 amidst strategies from other teams to keep the ball away. I'd say overall the focus on keeping him strictly a returner has made him better there. The question will be how much that's worth for the free agent-to-be when other teams decide not to risk kicking to him. Despite a rare and costly 34-yard miss in D.C., Robbie Gould's been busy earning another paycheck (from someone) in his contract year. Joe DeCamillis hit town with an almost-as-respectable reputation as Toub, but he's had to deal with rookies and turnover on his Third Phase. The results: The best kickoff return unit in the league, and eighth-best kickoff coverage. But they're the 15th-best punt return unit, and 23rd-ranked punt coverage.
10. Acceptance/Belief in the coaching change
Lovie Smith's popularity was without question. He never tossed his players under the bus in public. Trestman isn't afraid to candidly point out what happened, but goes out of his way to accept the brunt of the blame as point man for any of the team's failures. The overall impression, publicly, is that this locker room (especially the holdovers) have "bought in." Trestman's gone above-and-beyond to build relationships, as detailed in the book he wrote several years ago. While he can't be blamed if the team heads south after last week's injuries to Cutler and Briggs (more of a Phil Emery/depth-development issue), the longer they hang in there without their two best players on each side will build even more faith within the locker room.