MONSTER’S MASH: Bears look for new ways to free up Khalil Mack

Chicago Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack (52) reaches for Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley (30) in the second quarter on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019 at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, Calif. (John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

LAKE FOREST – When you have one of the best defenders in football, he’s going to attract a lot of attention. When your best defensive lineman is out of the lineup, the focus of opposing offenses on this outside linebacker will only increase.

Hence a lot of double and even triple teams for Khalil Mack during the majority of the 2019 season, especially since Akiem Hicks was placed on Injured Reserve with an elbow injury. That’s also meant a dip in some of the stats that he saw during his first year with the team in 2018.

Against the Rams last Sunday, Mack failed to show up on the stat sheet in any capacity in the 17-7 loss, the first time that’s happened since joining the Bears.

“I like to make an impact on the game, but teams are going to do what they feel like they’ve got to do to keep me away from (the play.),” said Mack of his frustrations on not getting on the stat sheet on Sunday.

After making 12 1/2 sacks in 14 games in 2018, that total is down to 5 1/2 this season as teams have made it a priority to keep the outside linebacker from wrecking their offensive plans. Not that Mack, who has 34 tackles and four forced fumbles this season, is excusing the lack of production.

“To me, in a way,” said Mack when asked if teams are paying more attention to him in 2019. “But even then, I mean, there’s no excuses for me.”

Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano was quick to point out the fact that offenses have keyed their game plans to try to stop the linebacker when asked about it early in his news conference on Thursday.

“It’s usually not like that but, you know, but you guys watch the game, right? You saw the game plan and how they attacked us,” said Pagano of Mack being “shutout” against the Rams. “We understand how they’re attacking him and how they’re taking care of him, how they’re tending to him.”

Evidence comes in the Los Angeles game plan last week, when they threw the ball just 18 times and primarily ran away from the linebacker most of the night.

“They were going to come out and run the football, try to keep it in third and manageable, lot of 3rd-and-1s, 3rd-and-2, 3rd-and-3,” said Pagano of the Rams’ game plan. “Never really opportunities other than four times for anybody, not only him but our defense.

“Just because he doesn’t show up on there doesn’t mean he’s not doing his job.”

Now the job for Pagano in the final six games is to find out a way to free up Mack to be able to cause the chaos in the opposing backfields that’s made him one of the NFL’s best since joining the league in 2014.

“Well continue to try and be creative and put him in spots and try to get him loosened up a little bit, ” said Pagano.

A New Face at Tight End

At this point, the Bears will take help wherever they can get it at tight end, and a new player will try to contribute to the group this week.

Jesper Horsted, an undrafted free agent who was more of a wide receiver when joining the Bears, is the latest to get his try at the position after he was elevated from the practice squad this week. He set the career-high for receptions at Princeton with 196 and touchdowns with 28. During the preseason, Horsted caught a touchdown pass in the third game against the Colts.

It’s still a transition for Horsted, but he praised his fellow tight ends for their help in the transition. That includes not only Ben Braunecker and JP Holtz, who will see the majority of the snaps Sunday against the Giants, but also the injured Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen.

Horsted says they’ve all gone out of their way to teach him the nuances of the position.

“They’re extremely good at it, like so much better than I expected coming into the NFL,” said Horsted of the help he’s gotten from the other tight ends. “They’ve been so helpful not only when I go to them and ask them a question, but they will be on my case on the sideline, ‘So what do you have on this play?’ or ‘Why are we killing this play?’ Even maybe it’s to a point where I’m like ‘Leave me alone, I’m trying to watch.’

“It’s a good thing. They’re helping a lot, and that’s everyone in the group.”

Matt’s Diary

During his news conference on Thursday, fans got to know something new about head coach Matt Nagy.

It came on a response to a question about the Bears continued sluggish offense, which is 30th in the NFL in yards per game (262.7) and 28th in points (16.9).

“We’re all frustrated and we know we can play a lot better. That’s the hard part; when you really dig down deep, especially when you see what happened last year and the way we played last year with a lot of the similar guys, it’s challenging,” said Nagy. “There’s a silver lining, I don’t know where it is, I don’t, I don’t, but there is one. Once you get through it and you find out what it is, that’s what makes all this stuff go.”

Then came the revelation from the coach.

“It’s funny, I was going through my journal the other day and I forgot we went on a little losing streak in that last year in Kansas City for me, but we rallied back from it,” said Nagy.

That was the first time that Nagy had revealed that he’s kept a personal journal of his experience in football. He’s not the only one on the Bears the have a journal, as Ryan Pace is noted to keep one during his time as general manager with the team.

At the end of his news conference, Nagy was asked specifically if this journal was mainly for football or life experiences.

“It’s more of a diary, but it might have a little football in there,” said Nagy.

STAT OF THE WEEK: 6.1 percent

The amount that Cody Parkey (76.7) in 2018 was better than Eddy Pineiro (70.6) is now at making his field goal attempts. Following two misses in his only two attempts last Sunday, Pineiro is now 12-for-17 on field goals this year.

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