The trade of Khalil Mack from the Raiders to the Bears this summer made a massive splash in the world of football.
The former Oakland Defensive Player of the Year also certainly will have a major impact on this Sunday’s battle between the Bears and Patriots in Chicago, even as he nurses an ankle injury.
Mack leads Chicago’s impressive defense with five sacks, adding an interception that he returned for a touchdown as well as four forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
So it was no surprise that Mack was a big topic during the Patriots conference calls on Tuesday morning, both with head coach Bill Belichick and New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
“He’s big, strong and fast,” Belichick said, beginning to describe Mack’s disruptive ability. “He’s got a lot of power. He does a good job of power rushing, but he’s fast enough to get the edge. Good ball awareness, so he does a good job of tackling the quarterback when he has a chance to tackle him but if he has a chance to get the ball out he has good ball awareness and he can strip it out.”
Mack will impact the way the Patriots offense does things on Sunday and how McDaniels pulls together a game plan and his playcalling duties.
“Absolutely,” McDaniels said. “This guy’s a tremendous football player. We’ve played against him a couple times before when he was in Oakland. He’s very athletic. He’s powerful. He’s quick. He plays with great effort. He’s got a high motor. He’s very disruptive both in the running game and in the pass game. He’s got a knack for creating turnovers when he gets near the football, which he’s already demonstrated in Chicago already in the short time that he’s been there. He’s just a great player.”
As such, the always-important area of ball security is on high alert for Tom Brady and Co. this week.
“He’s good at it and the quarterbacks need to be even more aware of it than they normally are, which is a lot,” Belichick said. “He comes around that corner and that’s kind of the quarterback…close to the ball and he can get his hand in there and just swat it out.”
Beyond Mack’s major impact, here are some of the other key takeaways from Belichick, McDaniels and defensive coordinator Brian Flores speaking with the New England media on Tuesday morning’s conference calls.
Kick coverage a problem across the board: The Patriots allowed a 97-yard kickoff return during Sunday night’s win over the Chiefs. But that singular big play is far from the only issues the team has had covering kicks this season. Kansas City had 180 yards on just four kickoff returns. In fact, New England now ranks dead last in the NFL in kickoff coverage with opponents having an average drive start of the 28.5-yard line. Opponents are averaging 27.4 yards per return.
A year ago the Patriots were one of the best kickoff coverage teams in the NFL and pretty much mastered Stephen Gostkowski kicking the ball high and near the goal line to prevent touchbacks and steal some hidden yards. That’s not been the case early this season.
“We just have to do a better job. It’s a multiple number of things,” Belichick said. “We have to coach better. We have to kick better. We have to cover better. We need to tackle better. We’re just not doing a good job, period.”
Belichick pointed to the new season, new rules and new opponents as some of the differences that have changed the results on kickoffs, even if the scheme and a lot of the players remain the same.
“We have a basic way we do things, but we’re obviously not getting it done well enough,” Belichick added. “We need to do a better job of coaching it and better job of executing it.”
Bears QB Trubisky has “been impressive”: Bears second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is off to a nice start this season helping the Bears to the 3-2 record. He has the seventh-best passer rating in the NFL and the fourth-best completion percentage. Flores described the traits that have helped Trubisky find success this fall leading an offense that has some obvious similarities to what the Patriots saw from the Chiefs this past weekend. Bears head coach Matt Nagy previously worked as an offensive assistant under Andy Reid in Kanas City.
“The first thing I would say is he throws a very good deep ball. He throws a good deep ball,” Flores began. “He’s accurate, an accurate passer. Obviously we all know him as an elusive guy in the pocket and someone who does a good as a scrambler extending plays and he does a really good job finding receivers down the field. So he’s been impressive. He’s a good young player, a good young talent. Somebody who’s getting better really week to week. It will be a challenge for us, a guy who can scramble like this and extend plays and then at the same time find receivers down the field and put the ball on them pretty accurately. So he’s been impressive.”
Flores values elusive sacks and pressures: The Patriots have just seven sacks in six games this season. New England ranks dead last in the NFL in sacks per pass play. Deatrich Wise (2.5 sacks) and Trey Flowers (2) have led the rush off the edge, while veteran newcomer Adrian Clayborn has yet to record a sack.
Tuesday morning Flores was asked about how he values sacks as compared to quarterback pressures.
“I think anytime you can sack the quarterback, that's great,” Flores said. “With that, when you're sacking him, you're pressuring him, and I think no quarterback likes having pressure on the edge or up the middle. So, yeah, I value pressures a lot, and I think that goes a long way toward marrying a rush and the coverage and playing really good defense. So, getting pressure on the quarterback is, I would say, definitely something that we strive to do. I think we've gotten that. I would say Adrian Clayborn's a guy who he doesn't have a sack this season, but he's put a lot of pressure on the quarterback and that's led to some mistakes. He put some pressure on [Patrick] Mahomes that led to some mistakes from Mahomes last week. I think the pressure definitely helps us to create some turnovers. It created some turnovers for us [last week], and hopefully we can continue to do that moving forward.”