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Film study: Bears’ pass-rush plan works perfectly vs. Giants

A look at how Robert Quinn, Akiem Hicks and Khalil Mack disrupted the Giants, the emergence of rookie Darnell Mooney and two controversial calls.

Robert Quinn picked up a sack on his first snap of the season Sunday.
Getty

The Bears’ dream pass rush materialized beautifully in their 17-13 victory Sunday against the Giants. Outside linebackers Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn and defensive lineman Akiem Hicks each had a sack and put plenty of pressure on Daniel Jones.

The Mack-Quinn-Hicks trio accounts for 21% of the Bears’ payroll this season, which will be worth it if they form the scariest pass rush in the NFL and turn the defense back into the takeaway machine it was in 2018.

The Bears realized last season that their $141 million investment in Mack didn’t do much for them if opponents could triple-team him without having to worry about Hicks (injured) and Leonard Floyd (ineffective).

But having three major threats presents a big problem for opposing offenses, and each of those players got one-on-one matchups against the Giants.

“I liked it,” coach Matt Nagy said. “When you have [Mack] and [Quinn] on the edge and you’ve got Hicks and some of these other guys pushing the middle, I thought that our defensive line, including our outside linebackers on the edge, worked well in tandem.

“You’ve gotta know when [Quinn] is out there that he can be coming around that edge pretty fast, and now you’ve got Khalil on that other side. That’s why he’s here.”

Quinn stuck mostly to obvious passing downs — Nagy said his 25 snaps (38%) were “just right” this early in the season — and made his debut on a third-and-six in the first quarter with a sack.

The Bears started Quinn with his hand down as a defensive end, his preferred position, and rookie left tackle Andrew Thomas couldn’t hold him long. With Mack and Hicks breaking down their blockers well, Jones had nowhere to go. Quinn smacked the ball out of his hand, and Mack recovered it. Four plays later, the Bears kicked a field goal for a 10-0 lead.

That’s the blueprint.

On Hicks’ sack in the third quarter, the Bears used Quinn and Mack as defensive ends. They beat their blockers and forced Jones forward in the pocket, putting him in ideal position for Hicks.

When Mack broke through for a sack on a first-and-10 in the fourth quarter, he did it with James Vaughters in for Quinn. The Bears were creative on this one, sending defensive tackle Bilal Nichols at Thomas and Hicks at left guard Will Hernandez, so Mack could race in untouched.

Mack also got pressure in a one-on-one matchup on safety Eddie Jackson’s interception that was waved off because of a penalty, and he, Quinn and Hicks factored into Deon Bush’s interception in the second quarter, too.

Mooney moving up

The Bears believed they had a steal in Tulane’s Darnell Mooney, a fifth-rounder who went 173rd overall and was the 25th wide receiver picked this year, and his first two games have been confirmation.

After a solid debut, Nagy bumped Mooney’s playing time from 32% of the snaps to 60% against the Giants. He caught all three passes thrown to him and finished with 36 yards and a touchdown.

His first two plays were terrific.

Mooney, who was criticized for being too small at 5-11, 177 pounds, got open in the middle of the field and caught a 16-yard pass from Mitch Trubisky between two defenders in the second quarter. The pass was behind him, but Mooney reached back and snagged it, then held on during the collision.

Near the end of the first half, when Trubisky bought himself six seconds by scrambling in the backfield, Mooney read him perfectly. He was near the left corner of the end zone and broke back toward the goal line to beat Giants cornerback Corey Ballentine for a 15-yard touchdown catch.

There were a few problems with his third catch. Trubisky checked down to Mooney as he headed toward the right sideline. With three Giants defenders in the area, Mooney’s best move would’ve been to immediately cut upfield and take whatever yards he could. Instead, he unsuccessfully tried to juke Logan Ryan.

Not only did Ryan stop him for four yards and set up a third down, he popped the ball loose. Mooney quickly fell on it to recover his fumble.

Controversial calls

Jackson was adamant that his fourth-quarter interception, which he returned for a touchdown, should have counted.

He was flagged for pass interference on Giants tight end Kaden Smith, wiping out what would’ve been a 54-yard score.

On review, Jackson clearly hit Smith’s left shoulder before the ball arrived. That unquestionably affected the play in Jackson’s favor, and the official made the correct call.

The final play of the game, when the Giants were throwing into the end zone for the win, was much more decisive and went the Bears’ way.

While all eyes were on the flag at the goal line with the thought that Jackson would be getting penalized again, the call was against Giants wide receiver Golden Tate for a blatant shove of Buster Skrine. That move was the reason he got open, and any contact after that was irrelevant.