Bears' Khalil Mack will be a load for banged up Matthew Stafford, Lions
Allen Park — Not much is going right for the Chicago Bears these days. The team's offense can't seem to find its way with struggling quarterback Mitchell Trubisky at the helm and the defense hasn't been the same since defensive tackle Akiem Hicks landed on injured reserve with an elbow injury.
Losers of four straight, the Bears sit in the basement of the NFC North, a year after claiming the division crown. But for all the struggles, one light continues to shine bright in the Windy City. Edge rusher Khalil Mack remains a force.
Despite seeing plethora of double-teams, Mack has 5.5 sacks. More importantly, he's gotten pressure on opposing quarterbacks 40 times. This week, it will be the Detroit Lions tasked with slowing him down.
"I mean obviously he is a special talent," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "I would say he is very quick to react to things that he sees. ... He does a great job with the awareness of the game. Situationally, he does a good job preparing too; you can see him on tape making a lot of calls, a lot of adjustments. Really, you always kind of look for, what are the signals, what are the communication types of things that they’re doing on the field. He’s really kind of on top of all of that stuff.
"Along with playing with great pad level, great explosion, he has an extremely strong lower body that continually just moves across the line of scrimmage," Patricia said. "And he’s really violent with his hands. A really good fundamental skill set, combined with extreme talent, combined with a lot of work and preparation – usually, you wind up a pretty good player."
Unlike some edge defenders, who are locked onto one side week in and week out, Mack is essentially ambidextrous when it comes to rushing the passer. According to data tracked by Pro Football Focus, he's lined up 235 snaps on the right side of Chicago's formation, compared to 234 on the right.
"I would say with the Bears, even last year, they moved him around, and then they also can move some of their other pieces around, too," Patricia said. "Certainly, with a guy like Khalil, you don’t want to give the offense an easy out to be able to push protection one way, you want to keep it moving."
Patricia also noted the Bears have spent more time experimenting with lining up Mack on the inside this season, meaning he'll potentially test for all five of Detroit's offensive linemen on Sunday.
The Lions will do what they can to provide help blocking Mack, utilizing tight ends and backs to chip, but the majority of the responsibility slowing him down will fall on the shoulders of offensive tackles Rick Wagner and Taylor Decker, and neither have been particularly effective in pass protection in 2019.
Again looking to Pro Football Focus, Wagner has allowed pressure on 25 dropbacks this season, ninth-most among offensive tackles. Decker isn't far behind, with 22 pressures allowed, although 14 came in two games, against Minnesota and Arizona.
Fortunately, for the Lions, those pressures aren't resulting in too many sacks. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has been dropped behind the line only 18 times through eight games, putting the team on pace for the fewest sacks allowed since 2013.
But it might be difficult to maintain that success with Mack on deck two times this month. In fact, the NFC North is loaded with elite pass-rushers. Not including Mack, the division boasts three of the top-six pressure producers in the league this season, led by Minnesota's Danielle Hunter.
Keeping Stafford clean is particularly important this week since the quarterback is banged up, missing practice time with hip and back injuries.
In the midst of an MVP-caliber season, Stafford has been particularly sharp from a clean pocket, completing 71.4 percent of his throws, including 17 of his 19 touchdowns.
Lions at Bears
Kickoff: 1 p.m. Sunday, Soldier Field, Chicago
TV/radio: CBS/760 AM
Records: Lions 3-4-1, Bears 3-5
Line: Bears by 2