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Analysis Bears

Why Khalil Mack’s Skill-Set Will Elevate the Bears Defense

Khalil Mack's addition will take the Chicago Bears defense to a new level.

When the Chicago Bears made the move for Khalil Mack, I was shocked, like the rest of the league.

But here we are. The Raiders determined that paying their best player what he deserves would not be in their best interests, the Bears politely disagreed, and the two teams worked out a deal based on two first round picks going to Oakland. And here we are.

Khalil Mack is a Chicago Bear.

How we got here is a complex tale of Jon Gruden’s ego, Ryan Pace’s aggressiveness in pursuing a superstar, and Mack holding out long enough that Oakland felt they had no choice but to deal him. But that’s not what this piece is about. This is about what exactly the Bears received when they agreed to this blockbuster trade.

And what they received could reap extraordinary rewards. Here is everything that the newest Chicago Bear, Khalil Mack, brings to the table.

Video Credit: NFL game pass, NFL YouTube, Anthony Adams on Twitter

Speed/explosiveness

Mack is a case study in how 40-yard dash times at the NFL scouting combine can be deceiving. He ran a 4.65, which is perfectly fine for an outside linebacker but doesn’t encapsulate how special Mack is in this regard.

In terms of burst off the line of scrimmage, Mack shoots out of a cannon like nobody in football with the exception of Von Miller. He shows so many other moves, though, that you forget that his speed rush to the outside may be his most special asset.

If offensive tackles don’t cheat (as in the poor technique kind of cheating, not the illegal kind of cheating) to stop his outside burst and bend to the quarterback, it’s nearly impossible to block one on one (and shortly I’ll go over the horrific consequences that transpire if they do). Here are a couple of instances where he purely outclassed his opponent with his speed.

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In both instances, Mack just went right around his man. Neither were done without a little hand fighting and/or winning the pad level battle, which is the case for every type of successful pass rush, but both matchups were won with unmatched speed, burst, and bend off the edge. He tends to be so explosive that some plays are over as soon as he takes his first step.

If Mack makes you turn your back to the line of scrimmage, it’s impossible to make up for the lost positioning by driving him behind the quarterback like tackles are taught to do. It’s just over.

Deception

Mack’s signature move is based on his speed rush: the long arm. The idea is that if the offensive tackle over-commits to the speed rush, thus inevitably placing him off balance, Mack will place his inside hand on the blocker’s chest and use his leverage and strength to throw his man to the outside and swallow up the quarterback.

I could find hundreds of examples of Mack doing this and perfecting it over the course of his career, but I settled on this edited clip of him doing unholy things to Chiefs tackle Eric Fisher, edited by the Bears’ own Anthony Adams:

The other move Mack loves that stems from his speed rush is the swim move. He’ll notice the offensive tackle taking a large step to the outside, and not necessarily lose his balance, which defends against the long arm. What Mack does to counter this is to make his first step a long step to the outside, then with his next one a lightning quick move back in, completing it with a club and swim and leaving the tackle in the dust:

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When at his best, that swim move is untouchable. As in the tackle almost literally did not touch him.

Sometimes Mack will use these moves separately, sometimes he’ll use a combination of both on the same play. That coupled with the speed rush is enough variety to torment opposing offenses until they don’t know what happiness is anymore.

Khalil Mack is difficult enough to block when you do know what he’s going to do. But you don’t. You never do.

Power

Occasionally, Mack will just come in with a head of steam and quite simply run you over.

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Good luck.

Mack is an unusually large and strong human being, yes, but his power moves involve an element of violence as well. 300-pound men are not knocked on their butts in a second by strength alone. Mack operates with such a reckless abandon that allows him to incorporate bull rushes and that aforementioned long arm into his game. Which brings me to…

Relentlessness

Mack never gives up on a play. Never. Even if he has already won a battle or gotten a sack, he wants more. It’s the reason he is arguably the best in football at forcing fumbles, with nine in four seasons including five in his defensive player of the year campaign.

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Watch this sack/fumble on Brock Osweiler in 2016. Mack immediately gains control of the poor offensive tackle’s outside shoulder and gets to the quarterback but the tackle does a nice job of staying with him to the point where Mack can’t get a clean two hands on Osweiler to take him down with ease.

Instead what he does, and the close-up replay gives a great view of it, is he grabs Osweiler’s inner thigh, hang on until he can get loose for his blocker, then dive and swipe at the ball, knocking it out and almost into the hands of the Raiders for a touchdown. His arsenal includes constant second efforts, counter-moves in case his initial try fails, and hustle to be in on every tackle (that last point is a huge reason why he’s just as good of a run defender as he is a pass rusher).

You may also notice that three of these clips are from the same game – the Raiders’ victory over the eventual Super Bowl Champion Broncos in Denver in 2016. There is a reason for that, and it’s because it shows Mack’s ability to take over a game, seemingly at will in this case. Even when he doesn’t get to the quarterback, he’s still making an impact, as he consistently shows up in the top three in QB pressures, per Pro Football Focus. Last season he had 74 pressures alone. The Bears had 100 as a team.

Work Ethic/Leadership

Mack’s best friend in Oakland, Derek Carr, cannot say enough about the extent Mack is willing to go to be the best. “Khalil is somebody who is obviously freakishly gifted,” said Carr. “There are a lot of people who have those qualities. He takes those things and outworks everybody.”

Amazingly, Mack was only a two-star recruit coming out of high school. He went to a relatively small school with little football pedigree (Buffalo), and for four years he absolutely rolled over his competition. Rarely do we see mid-major players being selected in the top five, but for most, it was a surprise that Mack even made it to the point where the Raiders happily scooped him up.

He is renowned for not only being one of the NFL’s hardest workers but also one of its best leaders and best teammates. Carr and fellow linebacker Bruce Irvin tweeted “No way” and “No _______ way,” respectively when they learned of the news. Gruden is going to have a lot of explaining to do when he meets with his players this week because the vast majority of them are nothing short of devastated.

Intelligence

This is another aspect that Carr has raved about. He went so far as to compare his play recognition skills to those of star linebacker Luke Kuechly, so what better example to choose than an interception returned for a touchdown against Kuechly’s own Carolina Panthers.

Mack not only put up points on the board for the Raiders here but he saved his teammates from a rather well designed play by Carolina. This is a fake quick screen to the wide side of the field and a slip screen to the boundary, a staple of many creative coaches’ playbooks. However, Mack read the play perfectly, and not for the reason pass rushers usually read screens.

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Often times, screens are blown up because the offensive tackle gives an easy release to the edge rusher, and if the defender recognizes that it was too easy, he’ll immediately seek the running back. That did not happen here. The tackle for the Panthers is in pass protection all the way, not conceding an inch. So how could Mack have possibly known the screen was coming?

Simple. He watched the film. As soon as he saw Cam Newton pump faked the quick screen, he began to disengage from his blocker with a quick swipe of the hands and a half step back. He had seen this play before and recognized it immediately, which was a good thing for Oakland because if the guard makes a one on one block, likely a cut block, on the inside linebacker, that play could have gone a long way. Instead, Mack jumps up, somehow keeps his balance through the catch, and walks into the end zone.

There was nothing Newton or any Panther could have done here. The throw isn’t bad at all and there is no way Newton could have foreseen what Mack was about to do. Mack diagnosed the play and took it the other way. That’s the type of fierce football IQ he brings to the table.

Conclusion

After poring over film of the Bears’ shiny new toy for a couple hours, I could not find a single flaw in Mack’s game. He’s actually a perfect football player. Very few edge defenders, if any, have equaled or surpassed his dominance in all facets.

To put it simply, this was a no-brainer for Pace. It is extremely rare to need a premium position as badly as they did – Sam Acho was in line to start the opener against Green Bay – and to see a Hall of Fame talent at that position with no character issues whatsoever become available.

Mack should be among the best players in football for the next four to five years and there is no reason to think, barring injury (he has not missed a game in four years – Knock. On. Wood.), that he wouldn’t be an effective player at least in a situational role well into his 30s. All things considered, if anything the Bears are underpaying him.

This was a home run move for Chicago. And the season cannot come soon enough.

Follow Jack on Twitter–Feature Photo Credit: Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune

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