LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Khalil Mack needs 2 1/2 sacks to extend his streak of seasons with double-digit sacks to five, and now it appears he'll get a huge boost toward that number.
All those triple teams and even some double teams Khalil Mack has been getting are about to disappear.
The return of Akiem Hicks from an elbow injury against the Green Bay Packers Sunday could allow for a little more freedom of movement by Mack, who was brought to Chicago to exact a toll from Aaron Rodgers.
"It's huge," Mack said of Hicks' return. "It's another force inside that has to be accounted for. It just makes the game easier.'
Besides removing double teams, Mack is just glad to have Hicks back because it brings another vocal leader to the field. Mack's leadership comes by example.
Mack calls Hicks Mufasa, as in the Lion King's father, because of his commanding personality on the field and how he's looked up to by other players.
"It means a lot, it means a lot having him (back)," Mack said. "His characteristics speak volumes, especially to this defensive group. And I saw that when I first got here."
Hicks has been gone eight weeks on injured reserve, so there could be rust to shake off and there's no telling how his conditioning will hold up.
"Just knowing the type of player he is, and the person he is, he's going to want to go out there and be effective immediately," Mack said. "Ultimately it's up to him, whatever happens. I feel like he's going to be all right."
When the Bears can put their entire defensive front on the field, they look more like the group assembled for the purpose of shutting down Rodgers.
Since Mack arrived, they've gone 1-2 against Rodgers. However, they've reduced the amount of scoring allowed each game. They lost 10-3 in this year's opener. They won 24-17 last December to clinch the division title. And in Mack's debut they blew a 20-0 lead at Lambeau Field and lost 24-23—a game Mack calls merely "a blur," now.
"There was a lot of situational football that they did, they did well down the stretch," Mack said of the Packer comeback. "He managed the game for them and put them in good situations to ultimately win. Defensively, we can't have that. So this week is going to be a good challenge for us."
That game and the two since then have only reinforced what Mack already knew of Rodgers.
"His knack to go out and win games, you can see it on film," Mack said. "He just puts the ball in right spots for guys at times and it's like, damn, you don't really see that a lot."
Mack realizes he was brought to Chicago as sort of a counter-balance to Rodgers. The Bears needed someone to keep Rodgers at bay while they groomed their own quarterback, Mitchell Trubisky.
"We can talk about (Rodgers), him specifically,” said Mack, "but ultimately that's the whole point in bringing me here, is to be in a position where you're fighting to be in the playoff push. That's where we’re at right now."
The Bears are more on the perimeter of the playoff picture. They need to win and get help from the Chargers against the Vikings and the Cowboys against the Rams. If they lose, they'd be eliminated if the Vikings or Rams win. If they win, they live to fight another week, this time against Kansas City.
It's simple to the Bears.
"The thing in our head is to go out and get this win," Mack said.