Joniak's Journal: Khalil Mack Performing At MVP-Caliber Level

No defender has won MVP since Lawrence Taylor in 1986.

Jeff Joniak
October 03, 2018 - 8:53 pm
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(WBBM Newsradio) The Bears (3-1) are on a bye this week, but there's still plenty to write about.

First impression

We could literally write about Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack every day. He's an early season Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and most analysts recognize that his first half was MVP-caliber as well. No defender has won that award since Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor in 1986. Texans defensive end J.J. Watt was second in 2014.

Through four games, Mack has produced remarkable number: five sacks, four forced fumbles and an interception for a touchdown for a first-place team on a three-game winning streak.

The Bears defense is permitting only 16.3 points per game, the third-best mark in the NFL. Mack is a monumental reason why. It's usually in late November that coaches refer to "separation" season getting underway, and if Mack and this Bears defense is still doing what it's doing now, we will have a lot to discuss.

Second thought

Linebackers coach Glenn Pires sees quality progress from rookie linebacker Roquan Smith after his first three NFL starts.

"Talking more within the scheme, communicating better with everybody prior to the snap and once that ball is snapped, he’s playing much, much faster," Pires said.

Pires sees confidence indicators in Smith’s progress and noted how he has unleashed some hard-hitting tackles.

"When everything is finishing fast and finishing physical, you know he’s confident in what he’s doing," Pires said.

Third Degree

Bears defensive lineman Akiem Hicks isn't expecting the league to hand him a suspension for bumping official Mike Carr in a win against the Buccaneers on Sunday. Carr attempted to diffuse a brewing verbal confrontation between Hicks and Buccaneers guard Ali Marpet, after which Hicks made contact with Carr. 

"This is the way it was relayed to me," referee Jerome Boger said. "The down judge (Mike Carr) was breaking up a skirmish between two opposing players, and after he got the players separated, No. 96 (Hicks) came back and charged through him and pushed him."

Boger ejected Hicks late in the first half with the Bears leading 35-3. It happened after Bears safety Eddie Jackson made an interception.

"It’s an emotional game, and he knows that he can’t do that, and he’s apologetic," coach Matt Nagy said.

Hicks is expecting a fine that could be more than $33,000, per the NFL rulebook.

A force up front for one of the league's best defenses, Hicks has three sacks and two forced fumbles and is a big reason the Bears are stout against the run. The Bears are permitting just 3.4 yards per carry and are second overall against the run, surrendering just 64 yards per game.

Fourth-and-short

Here's a look at some interesting numbers in the Bears passing:

-- Trey Burton has caught 58 percent of his 19 targets for an average of 16.0 yards.
-- Allen Robinson has caught 59 percent of his 32 targets for an average of 11.4 yards.
-- Taylor Gabriel has caught 76 percent  of his 29 targets for an average of 8.8 yards
-- Anthony Miller has caught 73 percent of his 11 targets for an average of 7.5 yards.

 The Bears are among the league leaders in fewest dropped passes through the first month. Who among these four becomes the consistent, productive target for quarterback Mitch Trubisky over the next 12 games? It's another storyline to follow.

Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.