The defense of the Chicago Bears has definitely made a leap in the right direction since the arrival of outside linebacker Khalil Mack. Before the trade for the 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, the Bears weren’t on the minds of many when it came to mentioning teams who would make it to the postseason. Now, Mack’s presence has made Chicago a team that just may slide into the playoffs this year.
Right off the bat, Mack proved that he was worth the trade for two first-round picks. During the first four weeks of the season, the three-time Pro Bowler recorded 17 tackles, five sacks, four forces fumbles, an interception, and a defensive touchdown. Unfortunately, Mack injured his ankle in Week 6 in a 31-28 overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins. That injury hampered Mack all afternoon, and limited him to just making two tackles in that game.
Leading up to a Week 7 battle against the New England Patriots, Mack was listed on the Bears’ injury list. The pass-rushing specialist was held out of practice for two days, had limited participation in Chicago’s final practice, and was eventually listed as questionable for the game against the Patriots. The Bears ended up losing 38-31, and Mack had just one tackle.
Obviously, this ankle injury has prevented Mack from playing to his full potential, therefore, not making the Bears’ defense as aggressive as it once was in the first quarter of the season. With this observation being made, one could ask the question: Should Mack even play in Week 8?
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Without Mack last season, Chicago’s defense was still ranked 10th in the NFL. So, they are capable of being a force without No. 52. Furthermore, the Bears now have an offense that can actually put some points on the board, therefore, letting the defense know that they don’t have to shoulder the entire team like they have in the past.
The Bears’ next opponent is the New York Jets, who has surrender 16 sacks and 23 quarterback hits. Even with Mack potentially on the sideline, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio should be able to devise a plan to rattle Jets rookie quarterback San Darnold.
No one knows just how severe this ankle injury is, and if playing on it against New England made it any worse. We really won’t know anything until the Bears hit the practice field on Wednesday. What we do know is that having Mack play on a bad ankle could hold the team back, and could have long-term effects on the team’s chances of making the postseason.
After the Jets, the Bears will have one more AFC opponent before they will have three consecutive divisional games. If there is a time when a team will need arguably the best defensive player in the league to be fully healthy, it is when have a stretch such as this one against divisional foes.
For a team that started Week 7 at the top of the NFC North, and found themselves at the bottom of the division by the end of the day, figuring out what to do with Mack in the near future could be more critical than many think. Sure, Mack, who’s started every game in his career since Week 1 of his rookie season, could continue his streak of consecutive starts. But, is it worth possibly risking the season for the entire team?