Aware or Afraid? Eagles Prepare for Khalil Mack and Co.
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Khalil Mack might not wear a hockey mask or a gloved hand outfitted with razors but when it comes to quarterbacks, the former Defensive Player of the Year is scarier than any horror movie favorite you might feel like dressing up as this Halloween.
Mack, the brilliant Chicago Bears edge rusher, and his teammates are ser to visit Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday as the 4-4 Eagles attempt to start the second half of the season on a winning note.
The disappointing Bears will arrive as one of the poorest offensive teams in the NFL but remain a defensive powerhouse even with former coordinator Vic Fangio in Denver and Pro Bowl-level defensive tackle Akiem Hicks on injured reserve. From a talent perspective, the Chicago defense might be the most impressive in the NFL and Mack is the best of the bunch, a true game-wrecker.
Typically Mack lines up on the left side of the defensive formation, matching up with Eagles All-Pro right tackle Lane Johnson. However, with Jason Peters out again and rookie first-round pick Andre Dillard at left tackle, new DC Chick Pagano is likely to allow Mack to move around a bit to take advantage of a matchup he might like, especially in obvious passing situations.
When asked about Mack by 973espn.com and if have to be aware of where he's lined up Philadelphia quarterback Carson Wentz brought up an interesting word -- afraid.
"Any time you got a playmaker like Khalil on the other side and the way he can change a game pretty quickly, you’re aware, you’re always aware," Wentz conceded. "By no means are you afraid, but you’re aware. So, offensively you’re going to put yourself in the best position to be cognizant of that and still do what we do best."
Wentz already has plenty on his plate pre-snap so it will be All-Pro center Jason Kelce's responsibility to slide the protection the correct way, which is always going to be toward Mack even though a player like Leonard Floyd could also create some headaches.
"Kelce up front does a great job making the calls and doing that stuff," Wentz said. "Again we’re going to be aware but not afraid."
Afraid might have been a Freudian slip by Wentz and it's not exactly the same type of fright when Jason Voorhees or Freddy Kruger are bearing down on a teenager who chose to hide behind those Geico hanging chainsaws versus the running car but it popped up in the subconscious because this is no ordinary edge rusher.
As for the rest of the Bears' defense, Wentz was injured by the time the Eagles met Chicago in January of last year but the fourth-year star did the mental work and hasn't noticed a ton of differences in the shift from Fangio to Pagano.
"They do quite a bit similarly as they did last year," Wentz said. "They definitely mix it up and do some different things, have a couple different pieces. Extremely fast, extremely fast defense, they play fast, they disguise things, they show you different things, but that’s the one thing that keeps popping on tape is how fast they play, how quick they’re able to get to the quarterback and all those things."
This is the fourth consecutive top 10-level defense the Eagles have faced, starting with Minnesota and continuing with Dallas and Buffalo. The Eagles continue to stress it's about them, not the opponent even when that opposition's face is eerily named the same as an 18-wheeler barreling down I-95.
"You definitely take inventory of that, but at the same time, we just gotta do our thing," Wentz said. "we just gotta be able to run the ball, play action, stay on the field, do our thing, and I think we’ll be just fine."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen