Chicago Bears star Khalil Mack was ranked No. 4 on NFL.com’s “top edge rushers” list. There’s a case that he was a bit underrated in that spot.
Just two seasons ago, Khalil Mack and the Chicago Bears ensured that every dropback was akin to that of a horror film for opposing quarterbacks and skill position players. In fact, if you were making a highlight reel for his historic 2018-19 campaign — one that included six forced fumbles and five pressures per game — you’d likely use horror music.
For long stretches of this past season, offensive schemes dialed-in on containing Mack’s game-breaker ability ensured that this time around, a 2019-20 highlight reel would probably feature elevator music instead.
After what turned out to be in some ways, a down season for the three-time All-Pro star, experts across the league have dropped Mack down a peg or two on their “top edge rushers” lists, NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks included.
In an article discussing everything from Joe Burrow’s potential impact in Year 1 to Isaiah Simmons’ role in Arizona, Brooks took to discussing the top five edge rushers and ranked Khalil Mack No. 4. Here was his rationale:
"“No. 52’s sack total was down in 2019 — 8.5, the lowest total since his rookie season — but he still created plenty of disruption off the edge. Mack has 21 sacks and 11 forced fumbles in 30 games with the Chicago Bears. He employs a power-based game that creates headaches for offensive tackles lacking balance, body control and anchor ability.”"
The three edge-rushers ahead of Mack? Danielle Hunter of the Minnesota Vikings, Cameron Jordan of the New Orleans Saints and Chandler Jones of the Arizona Cardinals.
This isn’t in any way, shape or form a means of discrediting Brooks’ article. It had tons of strong information. But one might be misguided in thinking that Hunter and Jones had similar or even close-to-similar circumstances in their respective jobs, and that’s not necessarily the case.
Barring a drastic change over the final month of last season, statistics point to Mack having much more reinforcement preventing him from chalking up better win rate percentages as an edge rusher. ESPN Analytics writer Seth Walder put out a chart explaining the correlation between pass-rushers’ success vs. the rate at which they were double-teamed.
Take note of how Mack was double-teamed on over one-fifth of those rushes. The further you are in that upper-right, the better (say hello to Robert Quinn, too). Mack was among the best, putting in superior numbers to Hunter and Jones.
For all the flack Chicago Bears’ fans direct Matt Nagy’s way, it was inspiring to see that he, and higher-up analysts noticed the reason for Mack’s lower sack total.
"“He may even be more dominant for that fact of the amount of attention that he’s getting,” Nagy said after Chicago’s 19-14 win over the Giants on Nov. 24.Mack draws a crowd, that’s for sure. The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year has had to fend off an endless stream of double- and triple-teams during the Bears’ midseason slide."
2019-20 marked the first time since Mack’s rookie season with the Raiders that his PFF grade dipped below 90.0, and it was also the fewest pressures he’s generated since then. But it seems as though it’s easy to accept matter-of-fact statistics without understanding why.
Last season, Mack ran the “hit the bag” drill literally during games last year, first getting past two linemen, and then having running backs prepared to “chip” him with a block. Mack saw those “chip blocks” 58 times a season ago, third in the NFL. Jones, the No. 1 ranked edge rusher, wasn’t among the top 10.
Take a glance at this for yourself. Look at how the Oakland Raiders defended against Mack’s skills in last season’s game in London. Trent Brown, at 6-foot-8, 359-pounds, shouldn’t need an extra man to help him block a car, let alone a pro football player.
If I’m Khalil Mack, I’m getting this picture framed on a wall somewhere.
What you see is that teams are willing to expend tons of resources to keep Mack from laying a finger on their quarterbacks. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that quarterbacks had to get the ball out so quickly against them.
In any case, the Chicago Bears should be well-equipped to make better use of Mack’s gravitational pull and impact this upcoming season. And sticking to the horror film theme, Mack’s likely to give his best Michael Myers impression this year. Expect a resurgent year, and one worthy of a return to the NFL’s All-Pro team for a player with his work ethic.