Call off the search party, Bears' Khalil Mack might be back


LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The growing angst over Khalil Mack's lower sack total is not shared by the Chicago Bears.

The way Bears coach Matt Nagy sees it, Mack -- tied for 26th in the NFL with 6.5 sacks -- is performing at an even higher level than last season when he had 12.5 sacks.

“He may even be more dominant for that fact of the amount of attention that he’s getting,” Nagy said on Tuesday.

Mack draws a crowd, that’s for sure. The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year has had to fend off an endless stream of double- and triple-teams during the Bears’ midseason slide.

Mack had one sack over a six-game span before a game-changing strip-sack of New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones in last week’s win. The Giants' fatal mistake on that play: attempting to block Mack with just one guy, left tackle Nate Solder.

“I finally got singled-up,” Mack said. “And I knew I had to take advantage of that opportunity."

Mack is not in the top 10 of ESPN's Pass Rush Win Rate, but Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano shared Mack’s sense of relief at making the big play.

“I was fired up and so was he,” Pagano said. “Every now and then someone won’t tend to him or they’ll leave one guy on him. ... Do you know what our record is when he has a strip-sack over the last two years? Seven and one.”

Mack might not reach his numbers from a year ago, but he’s tied for first in forced fumbles (five), and according to ESPN metrics powered by Next Gen Stats, Mack is third in sacks created (13) and Pass Rush Win Rate vs. double team (17.9 percent).

“Some years it’s going to be a little bit different," Pagano said. "And I look at just how people are playing us, what they’re doing to take him out of the game. But he’s a hard charger ... We saw it again obviously last week and it was huge. But the way he affects the game down in and down out, doing his job, setting other guys up, taking care of the run game, taking on doubles and triple teams and all of those kind of things, he’s had a great year.

“...He’s a freak. Left alone, one-on-one, he’s going to probably win that matchup 99.9% of the time, because he doesn’t take any downs off. He does not take any downs off.”

But not even Mack -- voted to four consecutive Pro Bowls -- could avoid collateral damage from the Bears’ disappointing season. There was even a narrative floated before the deadline that Chicago should trade Mack in order to recoup draft picks that could be used (theoretically) to find a franchise quarterback in light of Mitchell Trubisky's well-documented deficiencies.

"Khalil Mack is a ridiculously good football player,” ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky told ESPN 1000 in early November. “I don’t need to tell anybody that. The ball comes out really quickly nowadays. The last four years I’ve said, give me interior people before edges and that’s on both sides of the ball. Give me a really good center and really good guard more than really good tackle nowadays in the NFL."

That was a non-starter for the Bears. Chicago didn’t sign Mack to a monster six-year deal -- Mack is fully guaranteed $17 million in 2020 -- to get rid of him after a season-and-a-half.

At 28-years-old, Mack is in the prime of his career. The Bears have a multitude of issues to address in the offseason, but finding another generational pass-rusher to replace Mack isn’t one of them.

So for those wondering where Mack has gone this year, the Bears have a simple answer: nowhere.

“It’s impossible to say that he hasn’t had a good year,” Nagy said.

“Throughout this whole deal, the season we’ve had, he’s been a true pro. And he cares about the numbers only because it helps the team and I think that’s how everybody he is. And so he could care less about all the sack totals and everything, he just wants to win. And that’s all I hear from him, and that’s what I appreciate the most.”