Film review: Why wasn't Khalil Mack an effective pass rusher against the Patriots?

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Film review: Why wasn't Khalil Mack an effective pass rusher against the Patriots?

Khalil Mack was not 100 percent against the New England Patriots, a development that became abundantly clear over the course of the Bears’ 38-31 loss.
 
Mack rushed Tom Brady on only 16 of his 54 snaps, dropping into coverage more frequently (18 times) than he tried to get after the quarterback, according to Pro Football Focus. He didn’t record a sack or a quarterback hit, and while PFF credited him with two pressures, his impact was far more limited than it was in the first four weeks of the season.
 
So what went wrong? Was his ineffectiveness due to a bum ankle, or something Brady and the Patriots did?
 
The answer is somewhere in between, after reviewing the 15 clear pass rushing snaps Mack had (the 16th came on a pop pass touchdown to James White, and while it technically counts in PFF’s totals, there was no opportunity for anyone to rush Brady given he got rid of the ball in about a third of a second).
 
The blow-by-blow:
 
No. 1: Mack is lined up, as he was for almost all of these snaps, over the left side of New England’s offensive line. Tight end Dwayne Allen blocks him on play-action, which delays Mack’s rush a bit. While Brady takes about 2.8 seconds to get the ball out on a short pass to running back Sony Michel, the throw goes away from Mack, and he doesn’t have much of a chance on this play. Still, he isn’t able to beat Allen, which becomes a theme here.
 
No. 2: Left tackle Trent Brown has Mack singled, and immediately retreats as soon as the ball is snapped. But that’s by design — running back James White leaks out in the flat, and as soon as Mack engages Brown (instead of being responsible for covering White), Brady dumps the ball off to his running back for a gain of 14 yards. There wasn’t much Mack could’ve done differently here, though New England’s first drive of the game ends with Mack missing a tackle on a Julian Edelman touchdown.
 
No. 3: From the left, White chips Mack, and instead of engaging with Brown, Mack flows back toward the middle of the field as Brady throws a short pass over the middle. Brady needed just a shade under three seconds to get the ball out on this pass.
 
No. 4: This began as one of Mack’s better pass rushes of the game. With his hand in the ground on third-and-seven, Mack has a strong rush toward Brown and executes a good spin move on the left tackle. But Brown was able to re-set and re-gain leverage on Mack after the spin move, taking Mack out of the play. Leonard Floyd, rushing from the right, pressures Brady and forces him to scramble. But from the time Brady got the snap to when he decided to scramble, about 4.3 seconds go by.
 
No. 5: This was the fourth-and-one conversion from Brady to Josh Gordon. While Brady essentially stares down Gordon and leaves his blind side exposed to Mack, he throws the pass about 1.5 seconds after receiving the snap.
 
No. 6. Another quick throw that gets out in a second and a half. By the time Mack engages with Brown, Brady already has got rid of the ball.
 
No. 7: Allen motions from right to left near the goal line, with his responsibility to block Mack — though Mack doesn’t immediately rush at Allen. By the time Mack beats Allen, Brady — who was rolling to his left, toward Mack — is throwing the ball, though the pass falls incomplete.
 
No. 8: Mack is able to pressure Brady by knocking Brown back, and Floyd forces Brady to step up in the pocket. Mack dis-engages and goes back toward the line of scrimmage to chase Brady, forcing him to get the ball out quickly for an incompletion.
 
No. 9: Mack gets doubled on the left and is a non-factor. The sideline mic picks up someone yelling “get him, Leonard” but Floyd slips to the ground while one-on-one with backup right tackle LaAdrian Waddle. Akiem Hicks, though, provides pressure up the middle and forces Brady to throw deep and out of bounds, though he had a little over three seconds to make that decision.
 
No. 10: Near the goal line, the Patriots go hurry-up from under center, and Mack is barely set when the ball is snapped. Roquan Smith and Bilal Nichols, though, quickly generate pressure up the middle, leading to the Bears’ only sack of the game.
 
No. 11: On another quick throw — Brady gets it out in about a second and a half — Brown throws his right shoulder into Mack, making sure he has no chance of affecting the play.
 
No. 12: Mack goes to the inside shoulder of Brown and picks up left guard Joe Thuney on a stunt with Eddie Goldman, which generates some pressure, but Brady makes a short throw a little under three seconds after receiving the snap that’s dropped by White.
 
No. 13: This was one of Mack’s most disappointing pass rushing snaps. Facing a third and two after Mitch Trubisky’s second interception, Mack is one-on-one with Brown and isn’t able to mount any pressure, allowing Brady to easily pick out White in about 2.2 seconds for a first down.
 
No. 14: Mack is lined up to the right this time but gets successfully chipped by Allen. By the time Brady throws the ball, Mack is about five yards from the quarterback, and this pass went for 55 yards to Josh Gordon, setting up a touchdown.
 
No. 15: Mack is one-on-one with Brown and doesn’t mount pressure, though Roy Robertson-Harris does, forcing Brady to make an ill-advised throw that’s picked off by Kyle Fuller.
 
Some visual evidence:
 

The verdict: New England did occasionally commit multiple players to Mack, but frequently it was only the left tackle (Brown) or the tight end (Allen) who were on him. And while Brady is a master of getting the ball out quick and protecting his body, he didn’t seem bothered by Mack at all.
 
The quick throws would’ve been part of New England’s gameplan if Mack were healthy, but chances are the Patriots wouldn’t have singled Mack as much as they did — and almost certainly not with a tight end. That Brown and Allen had the success they did blocking Mack (Allen, in particular, was excellent in blocking Mack while the Patriots were running the ball late in the fourth quarter) speaks to Mack not being 100 percent.
 
The Bears may not get Mack back to 100 percent in the near future, though Nagy said the highest paid defensive player in the NFL is “kind of a freak in regards to his health and how he goes and pain tolerance.” Chances are, Mack will continue to play — he’s never missed a game in his career — but if he does, the Bears need to get more production out of him, especially when there’s only one player keeping him from the opposing quarterback.

Bears grades: Was the defense *that* bad?

Bears grades: Was the defense *that* bad?

QUARTERBACKS: C+

While the context of Mitch Trubisky still learning and developing in his second year in the NFL, and first in Matt Nagy’s offense, is important, there were too many missed throws and poor decisions to overlook on Sunday. One of his interceptions wasn’t his fault — Josh Bellamy can’t let a pass that hits him in the hands and chest, while falling to the ground, wind up in the arms of a waiting defensive back. But Trubisky’s second interception was on the quarterback: Anthony Miller ran an excellent corner route and flashed open, but Trubisky’s timing was slightly off and he under threw the ball, turning what should’ve been a breezy touchdown into a 50-50 ball. Jonathan Jones made a spectacular play to come down with it for an interception, but the point is it shouldn’t have been a contested throw in the first place. Trubisky missed three throws to Miller that all could’ve resulted in touchdowns throughout the game. 

Trubisky nearly was intercepted in the end zone twice, too, a week after throwing an end zone pick against Miami. Throwing in the vicinity of offensive lineman Bradley Sowell and reserve tight end Ben Braunecker was a poor decision, one Trubisky knew immediately he shouldn’t have made. 

And Trubisky’s accuracy on deep balls was disappointing — he only completed one of 10 throws that traveled 20 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage, with that one being the one-yard-short Hail Mary to Kevin White as time expired. In fact, on throws of 15 or more yards, he wasn’t much better, completing only two of 14 passes, including the Hail Mary. 

But the Bears still managed 31 points, and Trubisky did well to diagnose a Patriots’ defense that was neither containing nor spying him, gouging them for 81 yards on six scrambles. That showed an important skill of Trubisky’s — even when things aren’t going well for him through the air, his ability to make plays with this legs was critical in keeping this offense afloat. 

RUNNING BACKS: C+

Tarik Cohen again had an impactful game catching the ball, with eight catches on 12 targets for 69 yards with a touchdown. What he’s able to do out of the backfield props up the grade for a group that, otherwise, didn’t have much success on the ground: Cohen rushed six times for 14 yards, while Jordan Howard gained 39 yards on 12 carries. Cohen’s longest run was five yards; Howard’s was six, and combined they averaged barely over three yards per carry. The Bears have shown they can score points without an effective running game, but how long can that last?

WIDE RECEIVERS: C

Allen Robinson was hampered by a groin injury and only caught one of five targets for four yards, and dropped what would’ve been a third-down conversion in Patriots territory in the first quarter, leading to a field goal instead of an extended drive into the red zone. New England’s defensive strategy was to take away Taylor Gabriel, which is executed successfully — Gabriel only had one target until midway through the fourth quarter and finished with three catches for 26 yards. 

Miller had the best game of anyone in this group, consistently running open — only with Trubisky missing him frequently to the tune of two catches seven targets for 35 yards (there were, probably, three touchdowns to Miller Trubisky left on the board with over- or under-thrown passes). Kevin White caught his first two passes of the year, including a career-long 54-yarder on the game-ending Hail Mary, and also drew a penalty in the end zone on a one-on-one fade route. Josh Bellamy, conversely, did not have a good game, going 0-for-4 on targets and aiding J.C. Jackson’s interception of Trubisky by not cleanly coming down with a pass along the sideline. 

TIGHT ENDS: A-

Trey Burton had his breakout game, catching nine of 11 targets for 126 yards with a touchdown and doing an excellent job to be a reliable target over the middle for Trubisky with Gabriel taken away by New England’s defense. Seven of Burton’s nine receptions were for a first down, with another one gaining 11 yards on a first-and-15. Dinging this unit’s grade was Dion Sims dropping his only target, which would’ve gone for a first down late in the second quarter. It was Sims’ first target since Week 1. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: B-

The entire offensive line did well to protect Trubisky, especially after New England sent a few early blitzes that seemed to cause confusion up front. But even when the Bears brought in Sowell to be a sixth offensive lineman, the run blocking wasn’t there — on the five running plays on which Sowell was on the field, the Bears only gained nine yards. The Bears’ ineffectiveness running the ball has been a recurring issue, with blame spread evenly between the running backs and offensive line. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: C-

Bilal Nichols made three splash plays — a hit on Tom Brady, a forced fumble and a run stuff — and continues to look like an excellent mid-round find by Ryan Pace. Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman did well to make sure the Patriots’ didn’t get much on the ground after Sony Michel was injured, and that interior pair combined for five pressures — nearly half the Bears’ total of 11. But when the Bears needed a quick stop, knowing New England would run the ball late in the fourth quarter, the defensive line didn’t manage an impact, allowing the Patriots to chew up 3:49 of the remaining 4:13 left on the clock. 

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: D

Could this have been an F? Definitely. But it’s not based on this factor alone: The scheme deployed by Vic Fangio didn’t ask Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd to rush the passer as much as usual, with those two players combining to drop into coverage more (31 times) than rush the passer (29 times). Yes, when Mack and Floyd rushed — which was a one-or-the-other thing, not both at the same time — they weren’t effective. And Floyd, especially, was picked on by Brady and James White, who easily juked him for a touchdown in the first half. This was not a good game for either player, as well as Aaron Lynch, who only had one pressure in 10 pass rushing snaps. But given what this unit was asked to do, it wasn’t a failure — though it was close. 

INSIDE LINEBACKERS: C-

Danny Trevathan thumped 10 tackles and was solid in run defense, but did allow three receptions on four targets, two of which went for first downs. Roquan Smith, too, was solid against the run but was targeted five times, allowing four receptions for 35 yards with three first downs and a touchdown, per Pro Football Focus. Smith did well to pressure and sack Tom Brady on a third down play near the end zone, resulting in a field goal. Smith only played 34 snaps, though, his lowest total since Week 1. 

DEFENSIVE BACKS: C-

Kyle Fuller played well outside of getting beat on a perfectly-thrown back shoulder pass from Brady to Josh Gordon on fourth down, and his interception — which was aided by a good play by Adrian Amos — set up Trubisky’s touchdown to Burton that brought the Bears within one. Both Fuller and Prince Amukamara tackled well, as did Sherrick McManis the two times he was targeted. Gordon’s 55-yarder in the fourth quarter, though, can’t be overlooked — Amukamara was in coverage on that play, and Eddie Jackson missed a tackle that would’ve brought Gordon down around the 32-yard line. Instead, he gained another 30 yards on the play, setting up White’s second score of the game. Concerningly, this is now the third game of six in 2018 in which the Bears have allowed at least one big-chunk passing play in the fourth quarter.

SPECIAL TEAMS: F

Opponents are 1-10 when allowing two or more special teams touchdowns against the Patriots in the Bill Belichick era. More recently, teams are 44-8 when scoring two or more special teams touchdowns in the last five years (as an aside, the Bears managed to beat the Baltimore Ravens in 2017 despite allowing a pair of ‘teams scores). 

Things started off well for this unit, with Nick Kwiatkoski punching the ball out of Cordarrelle Patterson’s hands into the waiting arms of DeAndre Houston-Carson on a kick return, leading to a Bears touchdown. Cody Parkey forced Patterson to return his next kickoff, and the Bears swarmed the returner to drop him at the Patriots’ 18. But the Bears lost a good chunk of their momentum when Patterson scythed 95 yards for a return score on his next return attempt, with Kevin Toliver II missing a tackle — though he was the only player who even had a chance to bring down Patterson, so the return hardly was solely the fault of the rookie. Toliver, though, did later commit a holding penalty on a Patriots punt that sailed out of bounds. 

Ben Braunecker, who’s been a generally solid special teams contributor over the last few years, wound up on his back on Dont’a Hightower’s blocked punt. It doesn’t count for much, but credit Benny Cunningham’s effort to try to get to Kyle Van Noy on that play — but there was no way he was going to get to the Patriots linebacker, who was surrounded by a gaggle of teammates to get into the end zone. 

Similarly frustrating for this unit was, after Trubisky found Burton for touchdown that cut the Bears’ deficit to seven, they allowed Patterson to take the ensuing kickoff 38 yards to the New England 41-yard line. 

COACHING: B

This may seem high given how Fangio’s defensive plan didn’t result in much success and how Chris Tabor’s special teams units coughed up 14 points. But worth noting is more than half the Patriots’ offensive possessions didn’t end in points (six of 10), which is hardly awful against an offense that scored 20 touchdowns and kicked 13 field goals while only punting 21 times in its first six games. That’s not to completely absolve the Bears’ defense, as the execution and scheming needed to be better. But this wasn’t a total failure on that side of the ball, at least in terms of holding New England to 24 points. 

That being said, this grade is mostly about Nagy doing well to scheme the Bears’ offense in a game in which his quarterback was uneven and his quarterback’s two top receivers were limited either due to injury (Robinson) or the Patriots’ defense (Gabriel). Scoring 31 points in any week is impressive, and the Bears were a few better-executed plays away from not needing a Hail Mary to get one more yards to tie it at the end of the game. Complain all you want about the ineffective of the Bears’ running plays, but this offense has scored 48, 28 and 31 points in its last three games. What Nagy’s been able to do has been a big reason why, even if the Bears are only 1-2 in those contests. 

Under Center Podcast: Bears lose 38-31 to the Patriots

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USA TODAY

Under Center Podcast: Bears lose 38-31 to the Patriots

Matt Forte, Lance Briggs and Alex Brown join Laurence Holmes to break down the Bears 38-31 loss to the Patriots. What happened to the Bears defense over their bye week, and how did the special teams struggle so bad against New England? Plus – the guys debate Mitchell Trubisky’s decision making in the red zone and Matt weighs in on how the Bears should play his former team – the New York Jets – next week.

0:35– Special teams to blame for loss?

4:12– Where did the Bears pass rush go? 

5:27– Bad tackling followed Bears from Miami

7:25– Are the coaches to blame for the defense after the bye?

10:10– Evaluating Mitchell Trubisky’s game

11:55– Agree with Matt Nagy on Mitch’s “mental” game?

13:30– Trubisky’s red zone decision making

17:10– Are the Bears giving away games so Mitch can learn?

18:00– Bears need to run the ball more

21:04– Matt Forte scouts his former team, the New York Jets

Listen to the full podcast here or in the embedded player below.

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