Following a sloppy 38-31 loss to the New England Patriots Sunday, the Chicago Bears are now 3-3 and have fallen into a last place tie in the NFC North. One of the biggest reason why? A hobbled Khalil Mack.
Mack has been a game-changer since he arrived in Chicago, helping turn a respectable defense into an elite-level unit. His ability to create consistent pressure when healthy not only improved a solid front seven, but it also raised the play of an average secondary.
However, since Mack suffered a sprained ankle Oct. 14 against the Miami Dolphins, the Bears’ defense has gone from a top-tier unit to a pedestrian one in the blink of an eye. His injured ankle has handcuffed his ability to generate pressure, limiting him to mostly a decoy when on the field.
In their first four games, the Bears racked up a league-leading 18 sacks and held opponents to 3.4 yards per run and just over 16 points per game. However, they’ve only mustered one sack and allowed 4.6 yards per run and 27.5 points per game the last two weeks with a banged up Mack.
Every game is crucial over the course of a 16-game season. While notching two wins against the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills would help the Bears keep pace in their division, it’s not worth Mack risking further injury or a longer recovery time.
Now might be the best time to rest Mack. With stiffer competition remaining on the schedule, giving him a week or two to rest his ankle definitely would help the Bears in the long run.
You can’t deny the disturbing defensive trends when Mack isn’t at full strength. The evidence has been mounting the last two weeks, and you can even go back to that gut-wrenching week 1 loss to the Packers for more.
Despite missing training camp with a holdout, Mack had a strip sack and pick-6 that charged up the entire defense in the first half of the opener. Unfortunately, Mack slowed down as the game grew on… and so did the rest of the defense. Without getting pressure on an injured Aaron Rodgers, the Packers scored 21 fourth quarter points in a 24-23 comeback win.
When Mack hasn’t been his normal, dominant self, it’s caused an unsettling ripple effect this so far this season. The Bears’ defense hasn’t generated the same amount of pressure, and it’s exposed a so-so secondary on everything from screen passes to intermediate throws. Some of those documented, hair-pulling plays include:
- Randall Cobb’s 75-yard game-winning touchdown
- Albert Wilson’s 75-yard screen pass for a touchdown
- Albert Wilson’s 43-yard touchdown
- Josh Gordon’s 55-yard catch and run
To be fair, the last two games haven’t put the Bears in favorable spots defensively. The humidity in Miami certainly caused fatigue in the fourth quarter against the Dolphins, and Tom Brady and the Patriots have a tendency to make any top defense look foolish.
Still, the lack of pressure off the edge can be tied mostly to Mack’s injury. Leonard Floyd hasn’t gotten to the quarterback at all this season. Whether it’s the hand injury limiting him or just a lack of development, there is no solid evidence that proves he’s a consistent pass-rushing option. Other than occasional snaps from Aaron Lynch, there aren’t really any other viable options opposite Mack either.
The good news is that the next two weeks might be the perfect elixir. The Jets’ offense is wildly inconsistent from week to week, and the Bills are relying on either Derek Anderson or Nathan Peterman under center. With the Bears offense starting to score more points consistently, they might be able to get by with a mediocre defense against either team.
Following their Nov. 2 outing against the Bills, the Bears face NFC opponents the rest of the way, coming out of the gate with a three straight games against the division. In that 11-day span, they’ll face the Detroit Lions twice and the Minnesota Vikings at home.
Having a healthy Mack available for those games would be much more beneficial than two games against AFC East opponents. The Lions and Vikings have highly potent offenses, and notching a 2-1 or 3-0 record against them would help in terms of division and conference tiebreakers.
The defensive mojo has to get back on track for that to be possible, and that means Mack has to be as close to 100 percent as possible. Putting him in jeopardy over the next two weeks would seem foolish in the grand scheme of things.