This is not a piece about how great Khalil Mack is. A quick Google search or look at the Loop Sports front page will give you that. No, this is an article about how Mack affects those around him. And don’t think for a second that his influence only reaches to the other 10 players on defense. The former Defensive Player of the Year has much more juice than that.
We all know the numbers, Mack has 40.5 sacks in his 4 seasons in the NFL, and the last 3 have been double-digit. He has 3 Pro Bowl appearances, 2 All-Pros, and a Defensive Player of the Year. Yeah, Mack is really good. Despite my hatred of the term “generational talent,” that is exactly what Mack is. But this isn’t about how his number or how he is going to put up those kinds of numbers with the Bears, of course, he is.
No, this is all about the other players on the Bears roster and how a player of Mack’s talent is going to make the players on a top-10 defense even better. The main benefactor of Mack’s presence will be fellow outside linebacker Leonard Floyd. Floyd has 11.5 sacks in 22 games. Heading into 2018, Floyd figured to be the primary pass rusher. As of September 1st, Floyd is now the No. 2 edge rusher on the Bears. Forget his two fractured fingers, Floyd was having an excellent camp, and the addition of Mack just gave Floyd a free 1-on-1 matchup on virtually every snap.
What about the Bears “should-have-been All-Pro” Akiem Hicks? Having a player of Mack’s caliber will surely present him with an easier path to the quarterback one would think. What about extension-candidate Eddie Goldman? The Nose Tackle had 4.5 sacks as a rookie, I would imagine that more single-teams would be beneficial to him too. The last member of the defensive line is Roy Roberton-Harris. Robertson-Harris has earned himself a starting job on the defensive line and had 3 sacks in 5 preseason games to show for it.
I am very bullish on the interior of the defensive line. Why? Because typically a quarterback will step up into the pocket with outside pressure. With both Mack and Floyd delivering consistent pressure on the outside, there is an opportunity of the inside guys to eat. And eat they will. Hicks is already a premier inside rusher, Goldman has shown that he can clean up sacks inside, and if Robertson-Harris shows the bull rush-to-inside rip move that he showed in the preseason, then this defensive front can be elite.
At inside linebacker, Danny Trevathan has already proven his worth, but with the blitzing prowess of Nick Kwiatkoski and rookie Roquan Smith, the interior of this defense looks to gain a lot by the presence of Mack. Imagine what a 2-gapping Goldman, an elite Hicks, and Mack can do to keep offensive lineman off of Trevathan and Smith.
Anyone who remembers the second and third seasons that Brian Urlacher had with the Bears understands how crucial this is. Ted Washington and Keith Traylor were arguably the best interior defensive lineman that Urlacher had in his career.
There are several correlations that we can make between pass rush and the teams that have the best defense. The first metric that I look at is DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average). The folks over at Football Outsiders are kind enough to share these with us.
For reference, the Bears came in at 14th last year. Of those top-14 teams, 8 were in the top-14 in takeaways, and 9 were top-11 in sacks. That says a lot about total defense and the correlation between takeaways and sacks.
In that vein, 6 of the top-14 teams in takeaways, were also in the top-11 in sacks. It stands to reason that adding Mack would also make the secondary better at creating turnovers. But that’s not the end of this discussion, far from it. The offense also has been able to generate points, historically, when a defense is able to create more turnovers.
If you don’t believe me, just check out this chart:
There is a direct correlation between rushing the passer and scoring points. Although this also happens to correlate for the offense passing the ball more, which this Bears team should do easily. So if the pass rush leads to the offense passing more, which leads to the offense scoring more points, it stands to reason that the addition of Mack should also lead to the Bears offense scoring more point…right?
This might be the most overlooked part of the Mack trade in my opinion. Let’s assume for a moment that Mack makes the defense better, which leads to a better pass rush, which also leads to more turnovers. Wouldn’t that also mean that the offense sees more short fields? Turnovers and 3-and-outs give the offense a short field to work from. This means that they don’t need to move the ball as far to get points at the end of a drive.
Despite the old adage that the defense wins championships, this is true to a point, but if the offense can’t capitalize, then the defense isn’t taking a team anywhere. The opposite is also true. The offense and defense need to work hand-in-hand in order for a team to reach their apex.
One of the reasons that I was so adamant about the mack trade was the fact that I am so bullish on the Bears offense. One of the best ways to help a young offense is to have a great defense. I think that Mack puts them into that category.
The one thing that should never be dismissed is how a truly good defense affects an offense. With the aggressiveness that head coach Matt Nagy showed in the preseason, I have no choice but to believe that trading for Khalil Mack changes the equation. Make no mistake about it, Mack is the best player on the Bears roster heading into 2018, and his impact goes well beyond the stat sheet.
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