What Bears Fans Have to Worry About: The Khalil Mack Effect

Analysis: GM Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus talked about getting a second pass rush threat, either inside or outside, but now Montez Sweat could face what Khalil Mack did.
Montez Sweat made life miserable for Jared Goff with two sacks and poses a threat to all  QBs but did the Bears help him enough?
Montez Sweat made life miserable for Jared Goff with two sacks and poses a threat to all QBs but did the Bears help him enough? / Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports
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The Bears finally had a pass rusher who wreaked havoc.

In fact, it was so devastating that their coach admitted he thought to himself "holy hell" after seeing it for just half of a game.

The edge rusher wasn't Montez Sweat but Khalil Mack, and the coach was Matt Nagy.

Fast forward to now and the Bears are sitting in a situation somewhat similar to what they faced after Mack transformed their 2018 defense.

The Bears defense needed a catalyst as the ingredients for devastation existed already in a well-designed scheme, and somehow GM Ryan Poles obtained Sweat for the minor sum of a second-round draft pick. Sweat made his first Pro Bowl based on his work both in Chicago and Washington.

"When you add players like that, all of a sudden I think you could kinda see everyone had a little more swagger to them," Poles said before starting work on this year's free agency. "I think it affected the back end. You saw interceptions go up. You saw us win more games. The Tez Effect there, really proud of that one. Great human being, too."

The multiplier effect is when Sweat made everyone else better.

Here Come the Double-Teams

Offenses can multiply too. They'll start doing what they did to Mack and send multiple blockers. They'll get very physical.

The Mack experience shows it can be painful. The Bears seem ill-equipped to handle it and it might be the second-biggest worry for this team in 2024.

Offenses ganged up on Mack or got as physical as possible with him, using both multiple blockers or even one blocker with below-the-belt tactics.

Eventually Mack started suffering minor injuries that piled up and held down production even though he played through most. He had 12 1/2 sacks and 47 pressures in 2018 when he had to miss two games and play hurt in parts of two others, then had 8 1/2 sacks and 45 pressures in 2019. Then, in 2020, he was held to nine sacks and 31 pressures. He had only six sacks and nine pressures in seven games in 2021 when his Bears career ended on injured reserve.

Healthy finally, and allowed to focus on the pass rush, Mack flourished in a big way last year again for the L.A. Chargers opposite Joey Bosa with a career-high 15 1/2 sacks. Mack never attained what was possible in Chicago because the Bears never found a complement on the opposite side to prevent double- and triple-teaming or help for blockers.

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The Bears had Leonard Floyd but he never really blossomed as a pass rusher until he reached L.A. himself. Akiem Hicks wasn't an edge rusher and really was more of a run stopper and interior force. Half of Hicks' Bears sacks came before Mack ever came to the team and then he started suffering injuries in 2019 as well. Robert Quinn had an 18 1/2-sack season in 2021 to set the Bears record, but it was the season when Mack went out with his injury after less than half a season. Quinn had two sacks in the season when the Bears paid him to come and be the complementary rusher to Mack, and one of those sacks was awarded by league statisticians long after any of it mattered.

The Bears have a need now to complement Sweat. They had it going into free agency and going into the draft and never came up with it.

Calais Campbell was available in free agency until late last week and now he has been signed. It's either go bring back Yannick Ngakoue, who didn't really  work out also year prior to his season-ending ankle injury, or sort through the pile of cast off pass rushers who haven't found a home. Usually you get what you pay for at this late date in free agency.

The Bears are counting on self-improvement and the Sweat effect. They think DeMarcus Walker will be far better than last year at one end. They believe defensive tackle Gervon Dexter will step forth as a 3-technique and this can work, as well.

It's a Solo Act Again

Poles even said he'd rather have an inside rush over an outside rusher prior to this year's draft when he and assistant GM Ian Cunningham talked to media.

"Generally speaking, I would say the inside guy has the shortest path to the quarterback," Poles said. "So therefore, like if you have, we both have lived with, really good elite players that are inside and it changes everything and it opens up a lot for (combatting) other teams, as well.

"Yeah, having that interior rush is probably a preference when you have an outside guy. It makes it really difficult to scheme up."

Instead, they added only fifth-round project edge rusher Austin Booker and signed veteran journeyman Jake Martin, who has averaged three sacks with a high of four.

There is a great fear among Bears fans that they will repeat their sins of the past after drafting quarterback Caleb Williams. They drafted Mitchell Trubisky and Justin Fields, then fired the coach and offensive coordinator one year after they made the draft picks, thereby spoiling the development of young passers.

This is always possible, but right now without a viable edge rusher or dominant inside rush presence, it looks at least as likely they're about to commit the sins of their past on the defensive line.

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven


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Gene Chamberlain

GENE CHAMBERLAIN

BearDigest.com publisher Gene Chamberlain has covered the Chicago Bears full time as a beat writer since 1994 and prior to this on a part-time basis for 10 years. He covered the Bears as a beat writer for Suburban Chicago Newspapers, the Daily Southtown, Copley News Service and has been a contributor for the Daily Herald, the Associated Press, Bear Report, CBS Sports.com and The Sporting News. He also has worked a prep sports writer for Tribune Newspapers and Sun-Times newspapers.