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Tactical Thinking Bears vs. Raiders: Revenge of the Mack

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This week’s game has been shaped into a “revenge game” for the ages.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
You will run, and you will be sacked, by Khalil Mack.
Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

Standing at 3-1, and with the “regression” in full effect — wait, what exactly defines “regression” again? — the Chicago Bears will “host” the Oakland Raiders at the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, England.

One story that’ll trump any of this coming weekend’s news will certainly be why the Raiders decided to trade their young franchise pass rusher to anyone last season. They have struggled, and I mean struggled, to rush the passer since Mack’s trade was announced. They also haven’t done a particularly great job of protecting Derek Carr, either.

I could have highlighted the Bears’ pass protection against the Raiders’ pass rush as this week’s matchup. However, I’ll concede that I just could not pass up an opportunity to write on Mack’s chance at vengeance against his former employer.

Mack is playing the best football of his career

NFL: Chicago Bears at Washington Redskins Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Where the Raiders’ defense has yielded the worst pass rush the league has seen in recent memory, Khalil Mack has thrived with his new team.

In 18 career games played during the regular season, Mack has been credited with 17 sacks, along with forcing 10 fumbles. The Raiders have registered 18 sacks and 8 forced fumbles in 20 games as a team. That’s simply ludicrous production.

The scariest part about this match-up, is we might be witnessing Mack playing the best football of his life. If you think I’m kidding, then just gloss over the damage he’s inflicted over the past three games. He’s now on track for 19 sacks and 16 forced fumbles by the end of the 2019 regular season.

And did anyone else notice teams, most notably the Minnesota Vikings, are assigning four players against #52 in certain pass protections?

(Yes, there are clearly 4 different players who threw a block at Khalil Mack.)

Good luck to the Raiders who’ll be assigned to slow Mack down on Sunday.

Jon Gruden will try to scheme his way around Khalil Mack

NFL: Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

During the 2019 offseason the Raiders looked to cash in on major purchases invested into their skilled positions on offense and defense. Lost in the confusion that was Antonio Brown’s situation was the Raiders’ underrated acquisition of Trent Brown. However, they also elected to release former Pro Bowl LT Donald Penn in favor of making Kolton Miller the franchise’s top pass protector for Derek Carr.

Four weeks into the season, and the Raiders haven’t been terrible at pass protection. They currently rank 14th in football outsiders’s adjusted sack rate statistic. Two major factors have been Kolton Miller’s development, and Josh Jacobs being better than anticipated in pass protection. Gruden loves to have his backs in pass protection instead of lining up a tight end to Miller’s side.

Another thing we’ll see are receivers chipping in instead of tight ends. It’s an odd approach, but it’s one that’s becoming more common as teams adopt collegiate style “ace” concepts. It’s likely that the Raiders will try to run the ball early to gas the Bears’ defense, then followup with quick three-step drops for Carr to get the ball out quickly.

There’s just one significant flaw in Gruden’s pass protection. He generally leaves his left tackle on an island to protect Carr’s blindside. And trying to block with five linemen against the Bears’ front seven will be a recipe for disaster. Especially when daring Khalil Mack to beat Kolton Miller one-on-one.

Let’s not forget about everybody else....

Minnesota Vikings v Chicago Bears Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

A theme for Khalil Mack’s career in Oakland was while he’s a potential hall of fame player at his position(s), he just didn’t have any help on that squad to shoulder the load. That’s not the case in Chicago.

We’ve already witnessed the Bears’ depth tested early this season due to injuries for Bilal Nichols and Akiem Hicks. Roy Robertson-Harris is becoming yet another monster in Chicago, and Nick Williams has been eating quarterbacks when given the opportunity. Leonard Floyd and the remainder of the Bears’ linebackers are also in good shape.

If Jon Gruden thinks Khalil Mack is the only player to focus on...well, it will get ugly. It’s almost impossible to try and block every player in Chicago’s front seven. Chuck Pagano knows that better than anybody else in the league.

Grab a plate of fish ‘n chips and a cold pint (or a coke for those who don’t drink) and prepare for a classic vengeance game. Khalil Mack might be the most humble superstar one could meet in today’s league. However, he’s also hungry to remind Gruden where his now-wasted money on Antonio Brown should have been spent in 2018. That, of course, is something Ryan Pace and the Bears will forever be thankful for.