Bears star Khalil Mack promises flood of ‘huge’ plays on defense
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 only eight sacks and four takeaways to show for it.
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 unit resembled that indomitable defense from 2018. The Bears 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 that season.
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 sack or none in 10 of 16 games. Half of their sacks this season came against the Giants, and they failed to drop Colts quarterback Philip Rivers.
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 down. Rivers, who, 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 only once on third down.
“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 and $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 league since 2016, and are third in opponent passer rating at 74.4.
That has helped them hold opponents to 20.3 points per game, seventh in the NFL.
Overall, those numbers are good. But the Bears, especially with their offense looking shakier than ever, counted on their defense being the best in the league.
“We’re not making any excuses,” said Mack, who has 1½ 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 and a 116.5 passer rating and has been sacked only twice in 86 drop-backs. The Bucs scored 38 points Sunday, which is a number the Bears have hit twice in the last seven seasons.
Unless the Bears are suddenly going to break out offensively, their defense can’t allow Brady to play anywhere near his level of the last two weeks — or how he has played 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.