When I sat down to re-watch the Bears’ victory over the Cardinals, I thought to myself “Everybody is going to focus on Khalil Mack. Make your column unique and highlight another key factor in the game.”
After a few plays, I threw that idea in the trash can where it belonged.
He’s just too good not to be the focal point of this article. So here’s how the gift from god (and Gruden) won the Bears this football game. Among other things.
Khalil. Freakin. Mack.
In 50 plays for the Cardinals on offense, for all of which Mack was on the field, I counted 17 snaps where 52 in white positively impacted the Bears in some way or another – or would have if he hadn’t been held. Those include pressures, sacks, tackles for loss or no/minimal gain, and edges set against the run.
17 out of 50 snaps with a positive impact is unheard of for players who are not truly transcendent and dominant from start to finish. This is evident even when he is not touching the quarterback, like in these two examples of terrifying pass rush reps:
First is an example of what Mack can do with a full head of steam. The tackle, John Wentzel, strategized just as Germaine Ifedi did last week for Seattle: don’t let him get by you. He sat back a whole three to four yards off of the line of scrimmage and waited for Mack to engage him.
Mack deals with this by driving his man directly into the quarterback’s lap. He took a few steps in both directions and BOOM – not one second later, the pocket caves in on Sam Bradford and he has to throw it to a receiver who is not open. Mack has the highest motor in the league but his bull rush looks so effortless. He doesn’t have any wasted motion, just gets lower than his opponent and uses his momentum to create an incompletion.
Second, we have a clip that shows how hopeless it is trying to contain Mack. He doesn’t attract two blockers this time, he attracts THREE.
And it just doesn’t matter.
Mack bull rushes the tackle first then senses the extra help. He proceeds to flip his hips and “get skinny,” a textbook example of how to beat a double team. He’s held a bit at the end but manages to get through, though by then, Bradford is down and has lost the football.
By the way, as for uncalled holding penalties, I counted five. Here’s one of the more blatant missed calls, where Mack’s blocker just grabs a fistful of jersey because at this point that’s all anybody can do:
Mack doesn’t stop at “positive impact,” though. Every week he has one to three (or more) plays that simply break the opponent’s spirit. This week, there were two, one at the end of the first half and one in the fourth quarter.
Mack’s sack Sam Bradford here cost the Cardinals three points and how it happened is even more spectacular. This is a double team with the guard and the tackle. Mack fakes to the right and shoots into the B gap, forcing the tackle off balance and crossing his face.
By then, the play is over because he already has position on the guard and there’s nothing he can do to stop him (except blatantly hold him, which he did).
This is also a great example of his terrific explosiveness. He shoots that gap like a rifle and heads straight for poor Sam Bradford.
Then there’s the weekly forced fumble. Mack first faces a chip from the running back. He then tells said running back to get off of his football field, shoving him a good few yards backwards and out of the play.
Once he’s finished doing that, he spies Bradford trying to escape the pocket. Within a second he’s there, like a lion pouncing on a gazelle. Except this time the lion has an easier job because Sam Bradford is incredibly slow.
I don’t even blame Bradford for losing the ball here, though judging by his reaction, he does.
He never saw it coming. He couldn’t have. Mack got there too fast. And he, like always, went straight for the ball and created a turnover that brought the Bears to a 2-1 record and first place in the NFC North.
On the plays that gave up 14 points – what happened?
The Bears’ defense was extraordinarily dominant throughout the course of the game – each of Arizona’s four full second half drives ended in a turnover. They gave up a mere 14 points, but they were far more points than the Cardinals deserved because Chicago screwed up in coverage on three plays, and those three plays accounted for Arizona’s entire offensive output.
So I thought I’d take a look at each of those plays and see if I could find out who was responsible for the errors.
Tip of the cap here to the Cardinals, who put together a very good play call for the Bears’ man coverage (single high safety, man on the outsides, Leonard Floyd and Khalil Mack prowling the underneath area). They came out in a trips left look that turned into a bunch when Christian Kirk motioned towards the tackle box, then took off on a shallow cross to the right side.
Prince Amukamara has Kirk but he was set to the outside of the bunch and there was no way he could catch up to his man with the natural picks set by the formation. Mack, if he had seen Kirk coming earlier, would’ve had a shot, but he had his eyes trained on the quarterback. When he did see Kirk, they were on the same vertical plane and with Mack at a standstill and Kirk running, Mack had no chance.
This one is on Vic Fangio, in my opinion. The man coverage is fine, but that only works if you can get pressure on the quarterback. Dropping Mack into coverage is not how you want to go about doing that. Though I will give credit to David Johnson, who displayed a picture perfect blitz pickup to make the play possible.
This touchdown to Ricky Seals-Jones was the result of a missed assignment from either Prince Amukamara or Danny Trevathan. After a few re-watches, I’ve determined that I would need to know the play call in order to deduce who the culprit was.
Seals-Jones comes in motion before the play and nobody moves. That tells me that the Bears are in zone – down the middle and on the offense’s left side, at least. However, once the ball is snapped, Amukamara is in a clear man technique on outside receiver JJ Nelson. The big question is whether or not he was right to do that.
Fangio could have made a “lock” call for Amukamara to shadow Nelson, the only wideout on the field. If he did, this is on Trevathan for getting tangled up with Seals-Jones and losing track of his zone (which would be the hook/curl zone on the left half of the field). If he didn’t, and the Bears were just in a standard cover three look, this is on Amukamara.
Here’s a simple one to finish it off. I have no clue what Trevathan is doing. He exhibits horrible technique, becoming flat-footed as Johnson makes his cut right by him. Once he stopped his feet after turning his hips, it was all over. Johnson is too good not to take advantage and get six.
Other film notes
-While Leonard Floyd isn’t producing much in the way of rushing the passer, much of which can be attributed to his hobbled hand, he is doing a tremendous job setting the edge against the run (WGN Radio’s Adam Hoge noted this earlier today as well). He and Mack will shut down anybody’s outside run game and that allows the inside backers to demolish anything between the tackles.
-Watch any given pass play against the Bears’ defense in the last 3 weeks and it’s evident how well they collapse the pocket. Goldman and Hicks get the push up front, Mack and Floyd or Aaron Lynch take control of their tackles, and the quarterback never has anywhere to run (and he certainly can’t hide. Thanks for that, Gruden).
–The most improved Bear thus far is easily nickel back Bryce Callahan. I mentioned him in my “Four Takeaways” piece from Monday, but he was even more impressive on film. Dan Pompei said it best for 670 The Score: “He’s an industrious, tough, scrappy overachiever with a big heart. Give me 53 like him any day.”
-Callahan and everyone else who plays corner for the Bears has been superb at attacking and shutting down wide receiver screens this season. It must have been a point of emphasis for Vic Fangio and Ed Donatell over the summer. That being said – Tampa Bay has to be looking at the film and thinking that this is something they can exploit; they could get a corner to bite on the screen and throw it over their head. This is something to watch for next Sunday.
I wish I could brush this off as a rookie/inexperienced mistake (and in the long run that’s what it will amount to; Smith and Jackson will be a fantastic players), but one of the first things that any defensive player is taught at any level is “know where your help is.”
Danny Trevathan clearly has David Johnson contained on this check down, so Smith and Jackson cannot let him cross their faces and have to keep him on their inside shoulder. Instead, both of them dart straight to the outside and get juked into submission in almost identical fashion. Neither breaks down either, as you can see full strides all the way to the point of attack and pad level that is much too high. This didn’t matter much in terms of the outcome, but it’s embarrassing technique.
High point: Bilal Nichols wins the game
I’ll preface this by saying Nichols benefitted from a missed blocking assignment by left guard Mike Iupati. He had to have missed a “down” call because the center blocked down, the tackle blocked down, but Iupati did not. However, the technique from Nichols and the magnitude of this play earn him the High Point for my column.
Nichols squeezed his gap perfectly once his man went down. Once he located the ballcarrier, he was careful not to go too far upfield and instead stayed a couple yards behind the line of scrimmage. He then took a flat route of pursuit to Chase Edmonds (it still blows my mind that David Johnson was not in on this play) and made a perfect form tackle for a three yard loss.
This play was the difference between a first down inside the 40 and 4th and 5, which the Bears easily stopped. Bilal Nichols has been extremely impressive in his first couple games as a pro and should get more and more reps as the season continues.
Follow Jack on Twitter–Feature Photo Credit: AP
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