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Arrival of the Mack: a case for earning the league’s 2018 MVP award

ECD breaks down the top plays and stats from Khalil Mack’s first four games as a member of the Chicago Bears.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

We’ve all likely played Mack Morrison’s song “Return of the Mack” countless times since September 1st of 2018.

For anyone who was hiding under a mountain, or waking up from a night out on the town, that was the date when Bears general manager Ryan Pace pulled the trigger on securing the NFL’s top edge defender. Expectations skyrocketed for this young Bears team, and people instantly questioned just how much one player, who’s not listed as a QB, is worth.

Four weeks into the 2018 regular season, Khalil Mack has been worth every single penny and draft pick spent in the completed series of transactions.

Here’s the full stat-line for this Monster of the Midway:

Khalil Mack’s Stats-Line

Stats Totals
Stats Totals
Combined Tackles 17
Solo Tackles 14
Assisted Tackles 3
Sacks 5
Forced Fumbles 4
Fumble Recoveries 1
Passes Defensed/Deflected 2
Interceptions 1
Touchdowns 1
QB Hits 3
Tackles for Loss 3

In comparison to other defenses around the league, Mack alone has matched, and even exceeded, totals for several teams. His total amount of sacks (5) matched the 4-week totals for both the Oakland Raiders — Jon Gruden is likely doing the walk of shame right now — and the New York Giants. The one interception he has is greater than the total for the Dallas Cowboys, and matched the totals for the New Orleans Saints, Houston Texans, San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Jacksonville Jaguars.

The scariest stat has to be his forced fumbles/strip sacks totals. There are only 9 teams in the entire league who have forced more fumbles as a team than Khalil Mack has by himself. Those teams are: Cleveland Browns (6); Arizona Cardinals (5); Buffalo Bills (7); Cincinnati Bengals (5); Pittsburgh Steelers (6); Houston Texans (6); New York Jets (6); Tennessee Titans (5); and New Orleans Saints (5). Otherwise, his total either matched or exceeded the team totals of the remaining 21 teams.

Needless to say, Mack has been a force of nature on this elite defense for the Chicago Bears. Let’s examine some of his best plays for the Bears thus far this season.

First, let’s make a note of how Mack attacked the ball in his first official sack with the Bears. This has been a theme throughout his first four games, and a big reason why he’s the first player since Robert Mathis — helmet tip to Tonkaman for that bit — to record a strip sack in four consecutive games. That’s also a possible reason why he hasn’t been flagged for roughing the passer; can’t flag him if the ball is already stripped and on the ground.

This was just a savvy play made with pure effort. Once he sniffed out the screen and noticed Roy Robertson-Harris was free, he slipped back and intercepted the ball. His high football IQ has always been on display since coming into the league as the 5th overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft.

Again, he sees ball, he attacks ball. It helps to have such a high motor as he fought off a chip and a block from two separate players. Once he saw Russell Wilson slow-cocking his arm to throw the ball, Mack swatted the ball out.

Mack will not be denied here on his third sack of the season. Something else that he does exceptionally well, is he gets skinny when facing multiple blockers. In this case, he first set the tackle up to over-exaggerate their kick-step, then got skinny as he merged inside, and bull-rushed the left guard. He’s fought and won against triple teams on several occasions.

Another high effort play by Mack on sack #4 on the year, and his 3rd strip sack. And, again, he’s not looking for the kill shot. He eyeballed the pigskin and attacked Bradford’s arm. His energy and experience paid off as he ended the Cardinals’ chances of scoring on that drive.

Asking any offensive lineman in the league to block Mack one-on-one is simply daring the league’s most dangerous rusher to make a play. And Dirk Koetter’s Bucs paid the price. First with this sack of Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Koetter took an even bigger gamble with leaving Khalil Mack free to rush the passer, as he hoped the play-action off the trap would slow him down. Mack wasn’t having any of that nonsense. He swam over the pulling guard and disrupted Jameis Winston’s pass, turning a potential bomb into a wounded duck. And you’ve got to love Mack’s drive to go downfield while looking for shirts to block on Danny Trevathan’s interception return.

Oh, and on an unrelated note, that was a nice pancake served to Winston by Roquan Smith.

Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio, who’s coached up a top-ten unit in Chicago even before Mack’s arrival, has been creative in how he’s deployed his multi-role weapon. Specifically, he’s lined Mack up both as a defensive end, and as an outside linebacker. You will see Mack being asked to drop on occasion, while pass coverages and stunts are being blended from play to play.

Thanks to all the success that Khalil Mack and company have had up-front, Fangio has been able to utilize his full playbook. Thanks to all the havoc that Mack has caused by himself, other defenders have taken advantage of their respective opportunities to make plays. Out of the 18 sacks amassed by Chicago, Mack owns 5 of them. For the remaining 13 sacks, 9 different players have contributed.

If this isn’t a season that one considers worthy of MVP consideration, then the MVP award shouldn’t even exist. Lawrence Taylor was the last defender to win MVP, which dates all the way back in 1986. Mack is on pace to recording 20 sacks, 16 forced fumbles, and 12 additional quarterback hits.

It’s time to end that streak. And it’s time to be excited for the Chicago Bears again.