Eagles Are One of the Few Teams That Could Challenge Khalil Mack
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The Chicago Bears have perhaps the most ferocious defense in the NFL and certainly the most opportunistic.
And while there are playmakers all over Vic Fangio's unit and on all three levels, the straw that stirs the drink on the Bears' stop unit is unquestionably edge rusher Khalil Mack.
Acquired for two first-round picks from Oakland in Septemeber of last year, Mack has proven to be the final piece of the puzzle that turned good into great and while it might be an oversimplification, if the Eagles figure out a way to block Mack on a consistent basis during Sunday's wild-card game there is a good chance that they will earn a trip to New Orleans and a spot in the divisional round.
The Eagles did face off with Mack when he was still in Oakland during the 2017 season and right tackle Lane Johnson, who had an All-Pro level campaign last season, handled his business, limiting Mack to just one quarterback and no sacks in a late-season Philadelphia win. In that particular game, Mack lined up over 90 percent of the time against Johnson.
The context is different this time around as Chicago defensive coordinator Vic Fangio allows Mack to move from side to side more putting both Johnson and left tackle Jason Peters into play and the Bears have better complementary pieces so if you spend too much time worrying about Mack, players like Akiem Hicks and Leonard Floyd could wreck the game as well.
Mack has essentially split his time on the pass rush this season, according to ProFootballFocus.com, coming 227 times from his "natural" side on the left vs. 214 times from the weak-side. As you might expect Mack has been more successful from the left as well with eight of his 13 sacks coming from there and 30 of his 49 hurries.
The good news is that the Eagles are better equipped than most to handle what the Bears can bring with their defensive front.
Typically, Philadelphia has so much respect for Johnson and Peters that it will leave the tackles on an island, although Doug Pederson admitted Wednesday that the game plan this week will likely feature more help from the tight ends and backs to slow Mack down a bit.
"We just have to know where he's at, obviously and he's a tremendous player, especially on third down when he can gear up and get after the quarterback and he's very disruptive," Pederson said. "So yeah, it makes it a challenge, but our backs and tight ends just have to know by scheme or by protection call or formation where he is, and quite frankly, the entire front, because it's a good front. It's a much-improved front than obviously what we've seen last year or the year before.
"It's a challenge for us."
It's also a challenge for Mack, however, and the Eagles are one of the few teams that could credibly claim that.
"Those guys usually rise to the challenge," offensive coordinator Mike Groh said of Peters and Johnson. "They look forward to these kinds of opportunities to play against the very best. They've had an opportunity to do that really here in the last month of the season, to play against some really, really good defensive ends so I know they'll be ready."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen