Tape study: Khalil Mack’s top game-changing plays in Chicago Bears’ 3-1 start
When the Chicago Bears traded for edge defender Khalil Mack, they knew they were getting one of the best pass rushers in the entire league. In order to acquire Mack from the Oakland Raiders, it cost them two first-round picks and cap space, but the Bears received a second-rounder from Oakland in return and were willing to take on the risk.
Depending on who you asked, the opinions were mixed on the move for both sides. As much as I love Mack’s game, I was one of the people who believed the Bears gave up too many assets to make the move considering the contract they had to give him as well.
Aside from giving up picks and handing Mack a record-setting deal, there were other reasons to be concerned about the trade. Usually, blockbuster trades only work for the team acquiring the player when they are getting a star quarterback or skill player. Depending on the quality of player, quarterbacks and skill players shift betting lines much more significantly than any defensive player can.
Essentially, what that means is that individual defensive players don’t impact the outcomes of games very often. According to Vegas, quarterbacks and high-end skill positions are much more valuable to a team’s win total than a star defender.
However, Mack is the exception to the rule. Not only can he shift betting lines, but he can also change the result of games, and does so frequently. He’s one of the biggest difference makers on the defensive side of the ball in years.
Today, we are going to look at a handful of Mack’s biggest plays through the first four weeks of the season to show just how special and dominant he has been. The NFC’s Defensive Player of the Month in September, he has five sacks, four forced fumbles and a pick-six in only four games.
The Bears didn’t beat the Packers in Week 1, but that wasn’t the fault of Mack. In fact, he was one of the reasons that the Bears even had a lead in that game. After just practicing for a few days with the team, Mack put up a historic performance in Green Bay. Let’s take a look at two plays from that game. Allow me to set up the first play and the situation.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had just been carted to the locker room as the Bears held a 10-point lead in the second quarter. But with DeShone Kizer under center, the Packers were driving and threatening to score. On third-and-goal from the 9-yard line, Mack was able to not only sack Kizer but also force and recover a fumble. At the very least, a three-point play by Mack.
Mack was chipped at the line of scrimmage by the slot receiver and then stayed home as Kizer walked into his arms. But getting the sack wasn’t good enough for Mack, as he dug at the ball the moment Kizer was within reach. This was an aggressive play by a player who knew the situation well; a sack still likely would result in a field goal, while a forced fumble will prevent points.
Two drives later, Mack would make the biggest play of the game for the Bears. Aside from being a great athlete, Mack is incredibly smart. He can diagnose things so quickly. On third-and-19, the Packers decide to run a screen to potentially pick up some yardage before halftime. However, Mack knew exactly what the Packers were planning on doing.
Instead of getting up the field to get pressure on Kizer, Mack waited and jumped at the chance to make a play on the pass. Once the ball was in his hands, his only goal was to get into the end zone. He did just that. Between those two plays, that was at least a 10-point swing, if not more.
The following week against the Seahawks was another outstanding game from Mack as he continued to help take points off the board for Bears opponents. Just before halftime, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks were driving the ball, trying to cut down the Bears’ 10-point lead. But just as the Seahawks were about to get into field goal range, Mack tallies a strip-sack that ends Seattle’s drive.
These type of plays aren’t uncommon for Mack, but the way this one unfolded was. Mack lined up outside of the slot receiver (a tight end on this play) and was forced to take a wide angle to get to the quarterback. He was chipped by the slot tight end and then had to engage with the right tackle.
However, the angle actually helped him as he was able to get a running start, moving the tackle back with ease. Once he was near Wilson, Mack did what he does best — stripping the ball away from the quarterback. Another impressive play from the former Raider defender.
Against the Cardinals, Mack was in peak form. His best play of the game was a strip-sack on Sam Bradford in the red zone. In a two-point game like this, turnovers in the red zone are devastating. On this play, Mack was being blocked by two players. Instead of rushing up the field and taking himself out of the play, Mack hung back and spied the quarterback.
When Bradford ultimately decided to move up into the pocket, Mack read it and forced the fumble on Bradford. At the very least, it saved the Bears from allowing three points. With a touchdown, the Cardinals had a chance to take a two-score lead. But instead, Mack saved the day for the Bears.
As you can see from above, Mack has the ability to win games for the Bears almost single-handedly. His presence is already swinging games for Chicago, but it could change the outcome of the NFC North for seasons to come. Through five weeks, the Bears are atop the division, despite playing one fewer game.
With Mack on defense and an up-and-coming offense, the Bears might just be one of the best teams in the NFC. And you can thank the aggressiveness of general manager Ryan Pace for getting his team in this position. Fortune favors the bold, and trading for Khalil Mack is already paying dividends in a big way for the Bears.