Bears OLB Khalil Mack's Return To Form Could Take Time

October 22, 2018 - 2:04 pm

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- Prolific pass rusher Khalil Mack hasn't been himself lately, and the Bears have sorely missed the cornerstone of their defense.

The Bears lost 38-31 to the Patriots on Sunday in a game in which their defense was exposed for the second straight game with Mack hampered by a right ankle injury. Mack played 54 snaps -- 84 percent of the Bears' plays on defense -- but dropped into coverage 18 times. He generated pressures on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady only twice in 16 rushes, per Pro Football Focus. 

Coach Matt Nagy indicated the Bears will continue to take precautions with Mack's ankle and consider his status day-to-day, but could this issue linger and keep Mack from being the force he was in the first four games?

"There's a possibility," Nagy said. "Every player is a little bit different. Now he's kind of a freak in regards to his health and how he goes with pain tolerance. We'll have to just keep a real, clean eye on him."

Mack left the locker room after the loss Sunday without addressing reporters who were curious about his role and pain tolerance. Two days prior, he had declined to answer about his health.

Mack dropping into coverage against Brady created a look that was mostly ineffective, but it was especially curious considering his ankle limited his mobility to defend a pass. The Bears seemed to be using Mack as a decoy on defense.

Brady finished the game 25-of-36 for 277 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Meanwhile, the Bears sacked him only once -- a clean blitz by rookie inside linebacker Roquan Smith that was missed by the Patriots' protection.

That was the lone sack that Chicago has recorded in the past two games. The front seven hasn't created the kind of pressure it envisioned without Mack, and the secondary had had breakdowns that weren't there the first four games.

Mack was often double-teamed when healthy in his first four games, which created holes for the Bears to exploit and create pressure on the quarterback. With Mack playing through pain, offenses can focus their protection elsewhere and force the Bears to find other routes to the pocket.

"Our guys got to continue to keep working hard to win their one-on-one battles," Nagy said.

Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio may not be able to rely on Mack's consistent rush until his ankle is fully healed. The team will continue to monitor his health, likely holding him out of practice this week before the game against the Jets on Sunday.

The Bears have come to realize they must exercise patience in working Mack back to full form.

"It’s not easy," Nagy said. "It’s not easy. That’s where the trust level from both ends has to be there. The player has to understand where we’re coming from as a team as to where you’re at percentage-wise. We all now that he’s not 100 percent.

"That’s where we trust him, he trusts us and then we go ahead with the action plan and that’s what we ended up doing. It’s not an easy decision or process."

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.​​