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The Bears knew all along what Khalil Mack was worth

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Retired NFL defensive end Stephen White dives into just what a difference Mack has made for the Bears, and why they’re so hard to beat right now.

Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It is a remarkable thing when one NFL player being traded can change the fate of two different NFL teams. It’s even more rare when that player is not a quarterback.

We tend to think of football as being the ultimate team sport, so you would think no other single player, aside from maybe a quarterback, is that important in the grand scheme of things. Yeah, you have had your Reggie Whites and Deion Sanders, who left the team that drafted them to go on and help another team win a Super Bowl, but the list of defensive players who have made that kind of impact after changing teams is definitely short.

Maybe that’s what clouded Jon Gruden’s thinking when it came to Khalil Mack. Maybe, having never actually coached him, Gruden thought he couldn’t possibly have a Reggie White or Deion Sanders kind of impact on a team.

If that was even a small factor in what led Gruden to trade Mack, who didn’t show up for work after not getting a contract extension, rather than pay him what he is worth, I would say, so far at least, it seems pretty clear that Gruden was big wrong.

Not only has Mack been an absolute force since joining the Bears just seven days before the season opener, his departure left a huge hole on the Raiders defense this year as well. The trade set both of these teams on two very different paths this season, and I would think Mack is pretty happy with the direction he and the Bears are going.

Think about this, two years after going 12-4 and a year removed from a 6-10 record that prompted the coaching change in the first place, the Raiders are now guaranteed to have an even worse record in 2018 after their loss to the Bengals last Sunday.

Mack’s new team, the Bears, on the other hand, was 5-11 a year ago, a record that also prompted a coaching change, but they were playing for, and won, the NFC North division crown on Sunday against the Packers. It remains to be seen if Mack can help the Bears win another Super Bowl this season the way Reggie White helped bring another one to Green Bay, but I have to say, the possibility is growing on me.

But first, he and his Bears teammates needed to nail down that playoff berth with a win over the Packers last Sunday. The Packers fired their head coach a couple of weeks ago, which kind of tells you how their season has gone, but whenever Aaron Rodgers takes the field Green Bay has a good chance of kicking your ass. To win a game like that, with so much on the line, it was going to take a special performance from Mack, and man did he deliver.

Mack was all over the field, making tackles against the run and chasing Rodgers from sideline to sideline. He ended up having his highest sack output of the season, and his play helped Chicago to mash out a seven-point victory that wasn’t really as close as the score might indicate.

I want to talk about two of the sacks he was in on, because they both embody in different ways why its so hard to block him.

The #ButtSack

On the second play of the second quarter, the Packers were already trailing 7-0, but they had worked the ball all the way down to the Chicago 39-yard line from their own 27. They now had a third-and-10, and a first down would’ve likely put them in field goal range.

Mack was lined up as the left outside linebacker on an inside shade of Jimmy Graham, who was in a tight split a couple of yards outside of Green Bay right tackle Jason Springs. On the snap, Graham stemmed outside of Mack without chucking him at all, allowing Mack to get up the field on Spriggs in a hurry. At first, it looked like Mack was going to try to beat Spriggs around the edge, but that would soon change.

Spriggs took a decent pass set initially and because it appeared Mack was trying to blow past him, he tried to punch Mack with his inside hand to try to widen him around the edge. The problem was that you can’t just give a great pass rusher your arm like that or they will tear it off and beat you upside your head with it.

Ok, so maybe that didn’t happen, but what Mack did do next wasn’t as far off as you might think.

Once he felt Spriggs hand up near his face, Mack used his inside hand to grab Spriggs by his left forearm just above the elbow. He then forklifted Spriggs up by that same left arm and damn near lifted him all the way off the ground. He had Spriggs totally off balance so he was able push him right back into Aaron Rodgers’ lap (he also pulled Spriggs facemask with his left hand, but hey they didn’t call it, so it didn’t happen).

Spriggs knew he was about to get his quarterback killed at that point, so he did the only thing he really could do and grabbed Mack in a bear hug around his neck with his left hand, and around his outside shoulder with the other and held on for dear life (they didn’t call that either, so I guess they were even).

Spriggs was able to keep Mack from running through Rodgers’ chest, but he couldn’t keep Mack off Rodgers for long, even with the blatant hold. Undeterred, Mack first reached out and tried to swat the ball out of Rodgers’ hand with his inside hand while still caught in Spriggs’ clutches. Then, with Spriggs still holding him, Mack decided to spin around and try to sack Aaron Rodgers with ... his ass.

Yes, it was definitely an unconventional way to try to take a quarterback down, but hey, it worked! It just showed how serious Mack was about taking Rodgers down.

He did end up getting some help from his teammate, Bilal Nichols, to get Rodgers all the way to the ground, but if it were up to me, I would’ve awarded Mack a full sack on that play. He got there first and with the force of the impact of his backside on Rodgers, I don’t think Rodgers was going to be able to get out of the #ButtSack whether Nichols was there, or not.

Either way, the play was impressive as hell, all the same.

And he wasn’t done!

Super man, super sack

The third sack Mack was involved in on Sunday came with a little over 10 minutes left in the game and Green Bay trailing 14-21 after the Bears scored a touchdown on the preceding drive. The Packers needed to try to get their drive off to a good start to try to keep up as they started off from their own 25-yard line.

Normally, this would have been Rodgers’ time to shine. Instead, Mack made it clear to anybody who was confused that there is a new sheriff in town in the NFC North.

Mack was once again lined up as the left outside linebacker on the inside half of Graham, who was maybe three or four yards outside of Spriggs. Once again Graham went down the field into his route without so much as winking at Mack, which gave Mack a free run at Spriggs.*

Mack ran at Spriggs as if he was going to bullrush right down the middle of him. Spriggs, who had initially taken a good pass set, saw Mack coming like a freight train, and naturally, tried to set his feet in anticipation of the power move. At the last second, however, Mack changed course and stepped wide with his outside foot to transition to an edge rush. Spriggs simply was not athletic enough to restart his feet after stopping them to make sure Mack didn’t run him over.

While he stood there looking like he had on some concrete Timberlands, Spriggs was helpless as Mack was able to swat his hands, and dip and (half ass) rip to beat him around the corner. From his knees, Spriggs looked on in horror as he wasn’t able to pull Mack down with him. Instead, Mack did a Superman-esque dive to sack Rodgers before he could scramble away.

If his first read had been open, maybe Rodgers would’ve had a chance to get the ball out of his hands. However, Mack just beat Spriggs too fast for Rodgers to do anything but fall awkwardly to the ground. It went in the books as a 5-yard loss, and that sack threw Green Bay off schedule enough that they ended up going three-and-out on that drive.

Not exactly the answer on offense they were hoping for.

With his two and a half sacks against the Packers, Mack raised his season total to 12.5 on the year. The Raiders whole team, on the other hand, has only managed to notch 11 sacks on the season combined. I think its fair to say they miss that guy in Oakland, and the Bears are tickled to death to have him in Chicago.

It’s also worth mentioning that his 12.5 sacks are the second most Mack has ever had in a season, and it is also more than double the amount of sacks as anybody else on the Bears squad. Mind you, that is with Mack missing two games for the first time in his career this year due to injury. The guy has only played in three games that he didn’t get at least one sack in this year, and the two and a half he got on Sunday were the most he’s in one game all season.

Those sacks along with three pressures, two of which came from great effort plays where Mack ran from one side of the field to the other chasing Rodgers, as well as six more tackles not only helped the Bears win their first division crown title since 2010, it also earned Mack his very first Hoss Of The Week honors of this season.

Considering the fact that he has 7.5 sacks in the six weeks since his return from injury, I wouldn’t bet on it being his last time winning the award this season.