Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks Up the Pass Rush Pressure
The upgrade made to the Bears pass rush began to pay its first dividends in the Week 2 win over the New York Giants.
Outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino believes the payoff hit close to what the Bears are hoping for in the win over Atlanta as Khalil Mack's pass rush asserted its dominance.
Having Akiem Hicks inside, Robert Quinn and Mack on the outside took a toll on the Falcons by game's end.
"They can't double-team all three of them, all four of them, when Roy (Robertson-Harris) and Akiem are rushing well and Robert and Khalil are rushing well," Monachino said. "It's hard to keep eight (blockers) in there to protect.
"The impact is felt all throughout the defense. The secondary doesn’t have to cover as long. The linebackers don’t have to cover backs in space and tight ends in space as long. So the impact is there. The effect is there."
It didn't always show up in sacks because they had just two sacks of Matt Ryan, but it made the entire line effective and hurried passes.
Never was this more in evidence than when Hicks got heat and a hit on Ryan throwing deep on the Falcons' next-to-last possession when cornerback Jaylon Johnson appeared beaten on the play. The ball sailed well off the mark.
"And those guys did their job very well all game in getting pressure, hitting quarterbacks," Johnson said. "I was very pleased to have those guys with me on that play."
Mack's play produced half a sack, two quarterback hits and a strip sack that was wiped out due to a roughing penalty by Mario Edwards after the ball came out.
Mack has a 92.3 grade at the moment from the website Pro Football Focus. He had a career-high 92.3 grade from PFF in 2016 with the Raiders when he was chosen NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
"The phrase I used to describe his game (Sunday) is this player is a rare warrior that does everything he can to help his team win," Monachino said. 'He is physically dominant.
"He is mentally right on top of the ball and where he is right now from a football standpoint is really, really high. It's not every game is a three-sack, two-forced fumble game, but this is a player that impacts plays at a rate of about 90%. So that's pretty good."
Monachino saw the Falcons go way from Mack and turn to the quick passing game after several hits made on Ryan. He saw the rush really affecting Ryan at game's end as the Bears successfully ended drives to get the ball back for their 16-point comeback.
The Bears had eight total quarterback hits. Hicks had a monster game with five hits on Ryan, 1 1/2 sacks and upped his total of sacks for the year to 3 1/2, which is second in the league.
"I think Akiem is doing a lot of good things," defensive line coach Jay Rodgers said. And I think when you look on tape he'd say 'I've had some good plays and I have some plays I need to clean up.' I think in terms of what he got done (Sunday) in Atlanta, he was ferocious in the middle. He created a lot of problems for that offensive line which helped us win that game."
Hicks benefited from both Mack and Robert Quinn, and the Falcons' fear of them rushing against inexperienced tackles.
"I will tell you that coach (Dirk) Koetter and the Falcons did a great job of planning for our two edge rushers with the (pass) launch points close to the line of scrimmage," Monachino said. "That's why you saw Akiem have such a dominant game inside. It's difficult for a speed edge rusher to finish at 5 yards, but (Quinn) forced a lot of those step ups and got him right into the middle of our pocket, which was good."
Tactically, the Bears used four-man line more than normal. It would seem like a good approach to keep pressure on, but their run defense suffered.
"We will see as the season goes on," Rodgers said. "I think every week we try to figure out the best way to win that specific game. In a couple of the games, we have done some four-down stuff and tried to get home with four guys."