First-and-10: Bears need Mack at full throttle before he gets back on the field

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Bears linebacker Khalil Mack hasn’t been the same player and the Bears’ defense hasn’t been the same destructive force since Mack suffered a sprained right ankle against the Dolphins on Oct. 14. The Bears have dropped from second to 12th in total defense in the past two weeks. | Mark Brown/Getty Images

The first order of business for the Bears’ defense this week is simple: Get linebacker Khalil Mack healthy, even if it means sitting him Sunday against the Jets at Soldier Field.

Mack at 75 percent — or whatever he was against the Patriots on Sunday — wasn’t better than any other player at 100 percent. Whether he was rushing Tom Brady or dropping into coverage, he wasn’t very effective. The stat sheet said it all: one tackle and no sacks, no tackles-for-loss, no quarterback hits, no pass breakups, no forced fumbles, no interceptions, no fumble recoveries. Nearly a shutout.

After two seasons of one player after another going on injured reserve, the Bears have had better luck under new coach Matt Nagy, and Nagy’s cautious approach likely has something to do with it. Linebacker Roquan Smith didn’t play in the preseason after signing Aug. 13. Injury-prone linebacker Aaron Lynch missed most of camp after suffering a hamstring injury on the first day and has played in every regular-season game. Nagy rested his starters through most of the preseason. Anybody with a hint of injury sat.

But Nagy has been more aggressive now that the season has started, and the early returns are not good. Cornerback Prince Amukamara aggravated a hamstring injury against the Dolphins after missing one game — though he did not miss the Patriots game. Mack and wide receiver Allen Robinson (groin) were questionable for the Patriots game and played, but neither was effective. Robinson had one catch for four yards, with one drop, and did not finish the game.

Robinson didn’t speak with reporters Tuesday, but said during his paid appearance on the “McNeil & Parkins Show” on WSCR-AM on Monday that he’s continuing to get treatment and is hopeful he’ll play against the Jets.

“The primary focus is getting back to 100 percent,” Robinson said. “I don’t think that’s far-fetched at all.”

Mack’s status is unknown. He didn’t speak to reporters after the game Sunday, nor during open locker room Tuesday at Halas Hall.

Nagy acknowledged it’s “not an easy decision or process” with players who are not 100 percent but are healthy enough to be on the field. But, as with the laboring pitcher who’s sure he can get the next guy out, Nagy might be better off leaning on his own heretofore cautious instincts rather than trusting players to evaluate themselves. It worked pretty well in training camp and the preseason.

2. Consider it a sign of progress that the Bears’ offense scored 31 points against a Patriots defense that has finished in the top 10 in points allowed in 11 of the last 12 seasons — and that it happened during a game in which almost every facet of the offense was panned: quarterback Mitch Trubisky, the offensive line, the receivers and the running game. The bar seems to have been sufficiently raised.

3. Another sign of progress: When the Bears opened the third quarter by driving 58 yards on six plays for a touchdown — Trubisky’s six-yard pass to running back Tarik Cohen — it marked the third consecutive game in which the Bears have scored a touchdown on their opening possession of the second half. That’s generally (though not positively) a sign of good halftime adjustments.

How rare is it to have three of these in a row? The Bears haven’t accomplished the feat in at least the last 38 seasons. In fact, they’ve only scored a touchdown on their first possession of the second half in two consecutive games three times in that span — 2014, 2007 and 2005.


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4. With 81 rushing yards on six carries against the Patriots, Trubisky is second in rushing among quarterbacks with 245 yards on 31 carries (7.9 average) — behind the Panthers’ Cam Newton, who has rushed for 257 yards on 52 carries (4.9 average).

Trubisky is on a pace to rush for 653 yards, which would be third among NFL quarterbacks since the 1970 merger, behind the Falcons’ Michael Vick (1,039 in 2006) and the Bears’ Bobby Douglass (968 yards in 14 games in 1972). Douglass, who led the NFL in yards per carry in 1972 (6.9), still is the all-time leader in rushing yards per game with 69.1.

5. Trubisky’s success as a runner comes with greater risk as he gets bolder with his scrambles. He ran out of bounds on two of his six rushes and scored on another. But he was tackled three times — cutting inside on his 41-yard run in the third quarter instead of heading out of bounds, and leaving himself vulnerable. Is he living too much on the edge?

“Well, you always have risk,” Nagy said. “And we always tell them to protect themselves, to make sure when you’re in the field of play, just get down and be smart.

“I think [Sunday] was more the way the game was going, the way he was feeling like what he needed to do to help out in some situations — more so than just reading the backer — he pulls it and runs. [That’s] a little different. Scrambles are different than run-game reads.”

6. When the Bears’ defense was carrying the load in the first three weeks, punctuated by a 16-14 victory over the Cardinals, Nagy said, “It’s going to balance out.” Just two weeks later, it already has — at least on paper. The offense is ranked 11th in total yards (380.7 per game) and 10th in points (26.0). The defense is ranked 12th in total yards (350.0) and eighth in points (20.0).

7. Receiver Kevin White added another chapter to his star-crossed career. The biggest play he has made in three seasons with the Bears ended up as just 54 yards of frustration, one yard short of the end zone. Still, he had two receptions for 64 yards, which could give him the confidence boost he needs to jump-start his career. But the Bears have to give him the chance. That they have more confidence in Josh Bellamy than White is not a good sign for the 2015 first-round draft pick.

8. Brady’s 55-yard completion to Josh Gordon in the fourth quarter was the 13th pass play of 30 or more yards that the Bears’ defense has allowed this season, equaling their 2017 total after just six games. Missed tackles by Amukamara and Eddie Jackson enabled Gordon to tack on 31 yards after the catch.

On the seven pass plays of 40 or more yards that the Bears have allowed this season, 265 of the 389 total yards (68.1 percent) have come after the catch.

9. Josh McCown Ex-Bears Player of the Week Award: Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers clinched a 21-17 victory over the Eagles with a strip-sack of Carson Wentz on a fourth-and-two at the Panthers’ 14-yard line with 21 seconds to play. The 38-year-old Peppers has 156½ career sacks — fourth on the all-time list — and 38 sacks in 51 games since the Bears cut him after the 2013 season.

10. Bear-ometer: 8-7-1 — vs. Jets (W); at Bills (W); vs. Lions (T); vs. Vikings (L); at Lions (L); at Giants (W); vs. Rams (L); vs. Packers (W); at 49ers (W); at Vikings (L).

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