Khalil Mack's recent disappearance says more about the Bears' defense than it says about his own play

Khalil Mack's recent disappearance says more about the Bears' defense than it says about his own play

Just in case there are still Bears fans out who are skeptical about Murphy’s Law (Mercury doesn’t even go into retrograde until February!), a significant portion of Chuck Pagano’s press conference on Thursday afternoon was spent talking about how Khalil Mack didn’t show up in the box score against the Rams. 

“You guys watch the game, right? You saw the game plan and how they attacked us,” the Bears’ defensive coordinator said. “We understand how they are attacking him and how they’re taking care of him. How they’re tending to him. They were going to come out and try to run the football and keep it third and manageable.

“A lot of 3rd-and-1, 3rd-and-2, 3rd-and-3. Never really any opportunities other than four times to really rush the passer for anybody, not only him but for our defense. So, just because he doesn’t show on [the stat sheet] doesn’t mean he’s not doing his job.”

It’s been a frustrating six weeks for Mack, who has one sack since the Bears’ Week 4 win over Minnesota. Per Pro Football Focus, here are Mack’s Pass Rushing grades – and where they rank – during that stretch: 

Week 5: 48.4 (113)
Week 7: 52.3 (92
Week 8: 71.1 (23
Week 9: 55.6 (80
Week 10: 63.8 (34)
Week 11: 59.4 (51

“You see that with some of the production and you see that with a lot of superstars,” Matt Nagy said on Monday. “You can go back to last year with Aaron Donald, when he played us, there wasn’t any. Sometimes that happens, but it opens it up for other guys. He was a part of that first play of the game with the fumble. He was right in there with Eddie Jackson, ripping that ball out. Khalil, he doesn’t have to change anything he’s doing.” 

Pagano admitted that in theory, teams throwing two or three guys on Mack every single play should open up plenty of opportunities for other players but added that, “when that happens, [guys] have to win those matchups.” Not having Akiem Hicks, whose absence matches the timing of Macks' drop in box score production pretty closely, certainly hasn't helped. And now they'll be without Danny Trevathan – cough, Murphy's Law – for the majority of these final six weeks.

"Yeah, you could say because he’s not in there, you know, they don’t have to do this, that or the other to the guys that are in there, but you know, we got good football players in there," Pagano said. "You don’t want to be without anybody. We don’t want to be without Akiem, we don’t want to be without Danny. But that’s where we’re at."

Mack hasn’t had less than 10 sacks since his rookie season in 2014 (4), and he currently ranks 34th in sacks (5.5). Even still, PFF has him ranked as the eighth-best pass-rusher (86.0) and gave him the fourth-best overall defensive grade (89.4). The traditional stats obviously haven’t been there, but neither Nagy or Pagano has seen that frustration creep in and affect his attitude, or that infamous work ethic. 

“Khalil is a unique guy,” Pagano added. “He’s a great person, he’s a great pro, he comes to work every single day, even though this is happening from the first snap to the last snap. He’s a hard-charger. He just continues to go out there and grind and do what he has to do for this football team. I think the biggest thing for him is he wants to win.” 

Chris Simms says Bears are a dangerous team entering Week 15

Chris Simms says Bears are a dangerous team entering Week 15

The Bears have completely flipped the narrative of their 2019 season over the last three weeks, thanks in large part to Matt Nagy's offense finally resembling the 202-level that was promised last summer.

It may have taken quarterback Mitch Trubisky a little longer than expected to arrive this year, but if his last two games are an indication of his development in his second season under Nagy's tutelage, the Bears have a bonafide quarterback. And it's been a while since that could be said.

"Mitchell Trubisky is hot, there's no doubt about it," NBC Sports NFL analyst Chris Simms said Thursday. "He seems so much more comfortable. Decisive. He's accurate with the football. Running around at the proper time. I don't think it was all Mitchell Trubisky's fault with the struggles of the offense, either."

Those struggles spanned the first half of 2019 when Chicago seemed incapable of sustaining drives or scoring points. It began with Week 1's three-point output against the Packers and continued through Thanksgiving Day when Trubisky finally got his mojo back, throwing for 338 yards and three touchdowns against the Lions.

With Trubisky clicking, and the running game receiving a jolt from rookie David Montgomery's productive back-to-back weeks (in which he's averaged more than four yards per carry in successive games for the first time all year), the Bears appear capable of beating just about anyone. 

They'll need to. If Chicago wants to keep their weak playoff pulse going, they have to win out. And that includes games against the Packers, Chiefs and Vikings. 

The odds seem stacked against them, and it's their own fault. It took way too long to get the offense going, but it's better late than never. 

According to Simms, the Bears are that team no one wants to play.

"They're a dangerous team right now. They really are."

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Bears QB Big Board, 6.0: It's Mitch Trubisky's job to lose

Bears QB Big Board, 6.0: It's Mitch Trubisky's job to lose

Just when it appeared like Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky was entering his final half-season as the team's unquestioned starting quarterback, the last month happened.

Trubisky's play has steadily improved over the last five games and reached what may have been his watermark moment in Week 14 against the Cowboys. He completed 74% of his passes for 244 yards and three passing touchdowns while adding a season-high 63 rushing yards and a score on the ground. It marked the second week in a row that Trubisky's completed over 74% of his passes; he connected on 76% of his throws a week earlier against the Lions.

Trubisky's recent success is a far cry from the mentally broken player he was after the first month of the season. He has his confidence back. In fact, he's playing with more confidence than he's ever shown as a pro. His recent success is a direct and obvious result of his evolution between the ears.

The Bears were circled as a team that was likely to be in the quarterback market this offseason because of how terrible Trubisky looked early in 2019. And there's still a chance that GM Ryan Pace will look to add some healthy competition to the roster, but if Trubisky continues to play well, that competition will be for the backup job. 

It's also worth noting that one of the more appealing quarterback targets this offseason probably won't make it to the open market. Titans starter Ryan Tannehill continues to enjoy a remarkable comeback season and appears destined to sign a long-term extension with Tennessee sooner than later. After Tannehill, the discount quarterback rack includes names like Andy Dalton and Marcus Mariota, players who a month ago would've been viewed as marked upgrades over Trubisky.

It doesn't feel like that's the case anymore.

Barring a massive regression from Trubisky over the next three games, it's starting to feel like he's winning back Chicago's confidence one game at a time. 

With all that in mind, here's the updated Bears QB Big Board entering Week 15:

Bears QB Big Board (Dec. 12, 2019)

1. Mitch Trubisky (Bears)
previous: 2 (Dec. 3)

2. Andy Dalton (Bengals)
previous: 1 (Dec. 3)

3. Ryan Tannehill (Titans)
previous: 3  (Dec. 3)

4. Jalen Hurts (Oklahoma)
previous: 4 (Dec. 3)

5. Marcus Mariota (Titans)
previous: 5 (Dec. 3)

6. Teddy Bridgewater (Saints)
previous: 6 (Dec. 3)

Outside looking in (list cut down to three)...

-Jake Fromm (Georgia)
previous: outside looking in (Dec. 3)

-Jameis Winston (Buccaneers)
previous: outside looking in (Dec. 3)

- Cam Newton (Panthers)
previous: outside looking in (Dec. 3)

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