Bears star Khalil Mack promises defense on brink of flood of ‘huge’ plays

Bears star Khalil Mack promises defense on brink of flood of ‘huge’ plays

Mack has just 1.5 of the Bears’ eight sacks this season. | Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

The Bears’ defense has been good, but they need it to be unbeatable. They face a big test against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers on Thursday.

The Bears’ pass rush has been strong, but not overwhelming. With $44.5 million spent on Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and Robert Quinn, a trio that accounts for more than a quarter of the payroll, the Bears have just eight sacks and four takeaways.

The odds of them opening the floodgates in either aspect are low Thursday night against the Buccaneers and one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, Tom Brady, but Mack vowed that the defense is on the brink of erupting.

“It’s up to us,” he said. “There’s gonna be a spot where we can make that play. And it’s gonna be huge. And it’s gonna be more than one play.

“Just waiting on that break. And it’s gonna happen.”

It has been a while since the Bears resembled the indomitable defense they had in 2018, when they led the NFL with a stunning 36 takeaways — the most by any team in the last five seasons — and were third in sacks with 50.

They sacked Aaron Rodgers five times and got Kirk Cousins six times in the first four weeks last season, but since then have had one or none in 10 of 16 games. Half their sacks this season came against the Giants, and they failed to drop Philip Rivers last week.

Rivers’ style is closer to what they’ll see from Brady, as opposed to the more deliberate pace of the Falcons’ Matt Ryan in Week 3. The Bears held Ryan to 3 of 9 completions and sacked him twice on third downs. Rivers, like Brady, has built a Hall of Fame career on getting the ball out quickly, completed 9 of 14 passes for 118 yards and was sacked just once on third downs.

“Even though the numbers might not be there, the sack totals, there’s a lot of times where you’re affecting the quarterback,” coach Matt Nagy said. “I feel like in that world, we’re doing pretty good.

“I feel like we’re there. We’re getting some, but I’d love to get a few more. And when you have [pressure], you get turnovers… The turnovers, to me, are more important than anything.”

The Bears’ blueprint was to sink everything possible into the pass rush, hence the impetus to cut Leonard Floyd after a three-sack season and sign Quinn for five years, $70 million — the second-largest total for any free agent this year at a time when they’ve already got Mack on a six-year, $141 million deal.

There’s evidence the plan is working. The Bears have allowed by far the lowest opponent completion percentage in the NFL at 56.4, which would be the best in the NFL since 2016, and are third in opponent passer rating at 74.4.

That’s helped them hold opponents to 20.3 points per game, seventh in the NFL.

Overall, those defensive numbers are good. But the Bears, especially with their offense looking shakier than ever, counted on it being the best in the league.

“We’re not making any excuses,” said Mack, who has 1.5 sacks. “I’m not a guy that makes a lot of excuses.”

Brady, meanwhile, is finding his groove with the Buccaneers after a slow start.

Over his last two games, he has eight touchdown passes, a 116.5 passer rating and has been sacked just twice in 86 drop-backs. The Bucs scored 38 points last week, which is a number the Bears have hit twice in the last seven seasons.

Unless the Bears are suddenly going to explode offensively, their defense can’t allow Brady to play anywhere near how he has looked the last two weeks—or what he’s been against them throughout his career. He is 5-0 against the Bears, winning first in 2002 and most recently in ’18, and has a 109.2 passer rating.

Mack and the rest of the defense will have to dig up their best game of the season to stop him this time.

Latest Category Posts