No. 3: A better return-on-investment for Khalil Mack’s double coverage
Not that anyone’s counting, but it’s officially been 244 days and 351,360 minutes since the Chicago Bears went to London to play the Oakland Raiders. The old legend has it, they left their Playoff aura and swagger somewhere overseas. If you see it, let us know.
That Bears-Raiders game proved to be the turning point of all turning points, in my eyes. One quarter in, Chicago lost Akiem Hicks — arguably the Bears’ most important player — to an elbow injury. Mitchell Trubisky never fully regained his rhythm, and the Bears went through a tailspin, losing their next four games by just 5.8 points, and along the way, provided us with arguably the picture of the year. Turns out, it wasn’t the first time.
244 days later, it’s still hard to wrap one’s head around. At a chiseled 6-foot-3, 269 pounds, Khalil Mack can’t go anywhere on this planet and be a David. But that didn’t stop the Raiders from sending two Goliaths and a running back to boot at him. It also, unfortunately, didn’t stop the Raiders’ passing attack either.
The Bears went out and spent $70 million to ensure it wouldn’t happen this way again.
Two weeks ago, we discussed the amount of gravity and attention that Mack generates. The players around him weren’t quite able to take advantage, though. Per ESPN.com’s Jeff Dickerson, Robert Quinn, the Bears’ newest major signee, ranked No. 1 in pass-rush win rate (32.2) and solidified the job with top-10 finishes in sacks and tackles for a loss. On the flip slide, Leonard Floyd ranked No. 57.
The same went for Roquan Smith, who, like Hicks, will be fully healthy heading into 2019-20. Smith went through an odd sophomore season, finding a rhythm midway through, before suffering a torn pectoral muscle against the Cowboys on Thursday night.
Per usual, health will be the name of the game for the 2020 Bears. If they can avoid unhealthy scratches, they’ll be able to roll out those aforementioned players within the pass rush, to go along with Bilal Nichols, Eddie Goldman and Roy Robertson-Harris, among others.
Mack and Hicks aren’t deterred by one man alone, so unless offensive fronts are planning to come out with illegal amounts of offensive linemen, 1-on-1 assignments could be a formality.
The potential caveat comes with Quinn playing on the left side of the 3-4, or as a linebacker under Chuck Pagano, something he’s done only rarely. And when he did, in 2017, it wasn’t quite pretty. But, the Bears will have more than a quarantine’s worth of time to figure that out. And come Sept. 13th, the rest of the NFL will have to figure out just how to stop that.