LAKE FOREST – For the last few months, with the exception of two games, the Bears have brought a defender against their opponents that causes the coaches and players to get a bit concerned.
That’s just how good Khalil Mack is – a player whose presence and play can change the entire dynamic of a particular game or play. The linebacker has certainly helped the Bears to a few wins this season, and one could argue they wouldn’t be at the top of the NFC North without him.
This week Mack and the defense will face perhaps their greatest test of the season as they host the 11-1 Rams at Soldier Field Sunday night. They bring a potent offense led by quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley, which ranks second in both points (34.9) and yards (439.9) per game.
Yet most of the attention this week has been on a player who is on the opposite side of the ball, who could very well be the most important player for the Bears to neutralize this week.
Put it to you this way, imagine the impact Khalil Mack has had on the Bears. That’s what Aaron Donald has meant to the Rams in 2018.
“He’s a great player. He’s on track to have a record-breaking season,” said offensive tackle Bobby Massie of the defensive lineman. “If he’s your guy, you have to be ready to step up.”
Because the Bears can expect Donald to do the same.
His 16 1/2 sacks lead the NFL, and he has an outside chance to break Michael Strahan’s record of 22 1/2 in a single season. Since being drafted by the Rams in 2014, he has 55 1/2 sacks including 13 forced fumbles, with a NFL Rookie of the Year (2014) and NFL Defensive Player of the Year (2017) under his belt.
Like Mack for the Bears, Donald can make-or-break a game with a few big plays. His two sacks, five tackles for loss, four quarterback hits, and forced fumble helped Los Angeles get past a pesky Lions team last Sunday to win the NFC West Division title for a second-straight season.
“He’s a player when you turn on the tape, and you go through it with your guys each week who the game-changers are, you put like three circles around him,” said head coach Matt Nagy of Donald. “He’s a game-changer-times-three. You always talk about DBs and how opportunistic they can be with getting the ball and making plays and tipped balls and interceptions.
“But you look at him and you wonder how he can weigh as much as he weighs and be as quick as he is. He’s really extremely quick. He’s savvy in regards to the different kind of moves that he has; he has power, he’s got the speed, he’s got the athleticism. He can do it all.”
What a way for Mitchell Trubisky to return after missing the last two games with a throwing shoulder injury. The quarterback will be trying to dodge the talented lineman, which has been a difficult task for any signal-caller recently, as Donald has recorded a sack in eight of his last nine games.
“We need good ball security – and that’s in the pocket, just keeping my eyes downfield and moving up when they try to edge,” said Trubisky of facing Donald and the Rams’ defensive line. “Just trying to keep my eyes downfield and not get rattled, moving in-between, and knowing when to use my legs and knowing when to get the ball out.
“You’ve just got to have that internal clock this week, not holding onto the ball too long. Quick game, get them moving, play action, and all that kinda stuff. So we’ve got a good plan in place, and we just need a great week of practice. We’ve got a lot of respect for their guys up front; we know we’re going up against a good defense this week, we know what their strengths are and we’ve just got to play our game, execute, and know where the playmakers are at, at all times.”
Just as quarterbacks do against the Bears thanks to Mack, Trubisky will do the same as he faces Donald under the lights on Sunday.