On the first anniversary of the Bears trade with the Oakland Raiders for Khalil Mack, it is difficult if not impossible to quantify exactly the impact he’s had in Chicago.
General manager Ryan Pace had a two-word answer: “100 percent.”
Are the Bears a better team with Mack than they were without him?
Considering they were 5-11 in their last season without him and a 12-4 playoff team in their first season with him, that goes without saying.
Roquan Smith and Aaron Lynch were also significant additions last season, but Mack and Smith were the only new starters on defense.
With their arrival, the Bears defense improved from 10th in total defense to 3rd last season; from 11th vs. the run to 1st; they were 7th vs. the pass in ’17 and ’18 but improved from 13th in avg. gain per pass allowed to 1st last year; from 29th to 1st in interceptions; they actually dropped off from 6th in sack percentage to 9th; from 10th in first downs allowed to 1st; 20th in 3rd down conversions allowed to 4th; and 9th in points allowed to 1st.
The Bears would be good on defense without Mack, but it is his presence that has made them No. 1 in the NFL.
On the day Mack arrived in town, head coach Matt Nagy talked about what makes him so special.
“A lot of times you (the offense) need to take more than one guy because usually a lot of times he’ll win the one-on-one battle.
“Whether it’s a half-back, a tight end or another offensive lineman; so what that does is that creates a one-on-one match up somewhere else, and so regardless of who the player is and who the team is, when that happens, that’s an advantage for the defense.
“Put like three guys on him. He demands that from offenses.
“When you respect a guy like that, you try to have an answer for it, and sometimes that takes more than one person to do that.”
Nagy then went on to explain further why that makes such a difference for his defense.
“So any time you add a guy of Khalil’s ability, you just know that you’re helping yourself out.
“You know, he gets to affect the quarterback every play, and then of course, too, with sacks, fumbles.
“A lot of times, it’s the QB hits, and that rattles you more than a sack sometimes. Sometimes those QB hits can rattle you, and early on when you get those sacks, or you get those QB hits, it can affect the quarterback for the rest of the game.”
Ask Mack what he thinks his impact has been on his team, and he’d rather talk about anything but himself.
Last December, as the Bears were trying to wrap up the NFC North, he was asked how great he thinks his impact has been on the Bears defense.
“That’s credit that I don’t want. And I’m not about to take.
“Just coming in here, I wanted to lead by example. If I’ve done that, you know what I mean, it is what it is. I’m not going to say it.
“But at the same time, it’s not about just me. And that’s one of the things I’ve kind of hoped has been rubbing off – that it’s not about you.
“It’s not about one individual person. It’s about the team collectively and everybody going out and trying to get these wins.”
“That’s what I’m trying to tell y’all. I’m excited to come here and play with these guys, knowing that they have the talent that they have. Even without me, it’s a hell of a thing. I’m excited to be a part of the party.”
What is most important to Mack has nothing to do with what he’s meant to the Bears so far, it’s that he believes the best is yet to come.
“It’s just a part of me. I want to be the best. A part of being the best is working hard along with talent,” he said.
“That’s what I’ve been taught throughout my whole career. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”
That is likely to be Mack’s greatest impact of all.