What a difference a year makes.
On November 14, 2018, the Bears — with a record of 6-3 — were riding a three-game winning streak into a Week 10 matchup with division rival Minnesota Vikings. They would go on to win that game, and the next one, en route to an eventual 12-4 regular season record and NFC North title. The offense was humming, the defense was dominant and, at the heart of it, their best player: Khalil Mack.
But 2019 has been a different story. Heading into Week 10 of this season, the Bears are 4-5 and living in a reality where every game is a must-win. A sputtering offensive attack, helmed by the increasingly-maligned duo of Mitch Trubisky and Matt Nagy, has catalyzed struggles across the team — including a half-step back for a defense that once appeared unassailable. They are still one of the league’s best, but not quite the death star of a unit they were in 2018.
Though many of his stats are comparable to his 2018 pace (outside of raw sack totals), Mack, specifically, hasn’t wreaked the same kind of havoc this season as he did last. Recently, NBC Sports NFL analyst, Chris Simms, posited a few theories for that development:
“In the big picture of the Chicago Bears: In general, when you’re not playing from a lead ever, to where the team playing against Chicago goes, ‘Oh man, we’re down by 14 or we’re down by 20. We gotta start throwing the football more,’ you know, those were the opportunities last year where Khalil Mack and the Bears were in control of the game,” Simms said.
“When you’re playing the Chicago Bears right now, you gameplan and you go, ‘Ok, what’s the big picture here?’ We’re not scared of their offense, so you can play it conservative on offense when you are playing the Bears,” he continued. “We know the one way we can lose to the Bears this week is if we let Khalil Mack get off on us, and we try to throw complete passes down the field, and then stripe-sack[s], fumbles and things happen.
“Within playing the Bears, most teams go into the games with conservative offensive gameplans because they don’t trust that the Bears offense is going to be able to move the ball a whole lot on their defense, and it’s short passes and things like that to where one guy that may be able to ruin a game on a weekly basis… Khalil Mack kind of gets taken away in those circumstances.”
Opposing offenses have also been able to devote even more attention than usual to Mack in the form of double-teams and chips, given the increasing amount of injuries the Bears have sustained in their front seven — a fact Simms also acknowledges.
“[Mack] really creates a lot of attention,” Simms said. “And without Akiem Hicks there, a lot of offenses don’t have to worry about that beast in the middle and we can focus on our attention [to] let’s not let 52 ruin the game for us on that side.”
With the loss of Danny Trevathan on Sunday, that special attention Mack receives is only like to increase.