Khalil Mack sets sights on Eli Manning, Giants
The man is a prototype for outside linebackers.
A powerful bull rusher. Quick off the edge. With a relentless motor.
And Sunday, he’s coming for Eli Manning.
“He’s very disruptive, and you just got to have a plan to try to keep him from taking over,” the quarterback said.
The operative word being “try.”
The 6-foot-3, 252-pound Mack has tormented quarterbacks throughout his first season in Chicago. The defensive player of the year candidate has 8.0 sacks in only nine games (he missed two games with a right ankle injury). He has five forced fumbles, sharing the league lead with J.J. Watt and Dee Ford. And he has a pick-six and three passes defensed.
“He’s got strengths up through the roof. He’s incredible…” left tackle Nate Solder said. “He’s got all the talent and qualities that you would ever ask for.”
And the guy who will be standing between Mack and Manning on most plays?
Right tackle Chad Wheeler.
“He’s just relentless. A great player,” said Wheeler, who has struggled in his second season. He and the rest of the Giants offensive line have yielded 38 sacks, tied for second most in the NFL. “He has an internal drive that is sometimes unmatched.”
Wheeler faced Mack last December when the linebacker was still an Oakland Raider, and he yielded a crucial strip sack — which Mack recovered — of Geno Smith with the Giants inside the Oakland 5-yard line. It was a decisive play in Oakland’s 24-17 victory.
Mack doesn’t just pressure quarterbacks. He forces fumbles. He disrupts rushing attacks. Simply put, he wrecks offenses.
“He’s a guy that can really disrupt the game in a way that is not good for the offense,” Giants coach Pat Shurmur said.
But it’s not just what Mack has done. It’s the impact he has made on the entire Bears defense.
After four straight losing seasons and seven consecutive playoff-less campaigns, Chicago (8-3) is not just relevant again. It stands in first place in the NFC North.
The Bears rank fourth in the NFL in total defense (316.1 yards per game), second in scoring defense (19.2 points per game) and second in run defense (80.8). Last year, they ranked 10th, ninth and 11th respectively.
Chicago leads the NFL in takeaways (29), interceptions (20) and forced fumbles (16; in a three-way tie).
The difference — for the most part — has been Mack.
The three-time Pro Bowler already has joined the long line of iconic Bears linebackers. Dick Butkus. Mike Singletary, Brian Urlacher.
Not bad for a guy who still hasn’t completely mastered the Bears’ defense after his Labor Day weekend trade from Oakland.
“He’s everything and more than we thought,” said Bears coach Matt Nagy. “As I tell everybody: You know from going against him, I know from going against him in Kansas City, what type of player he was when you have to compete against him.
“[But] when you bring him into practice and you see who the person is within the four walls of the building, and you see how he is as a human being and his character and how he’s a leader, it just makes it even better.”
Mack is a special player. A generational player.
So how do you stop him?
The Giants will double him when they can. They probably will chip him with Saquon Barkley in passing situations.
It “starts with protecting the quarterback, getting hat on the hat, not letting him get uncovered where he can get a free shot,” Solder said.
But they probably won’t stop him completely. They would settle for just preventing him from disrupting the offense.
“He’s as good as advertised. The only thing I can say is he’s good as advertised,” Barkley said. “He’s probably the best defensive player in the league. … He’s everything you want in an outside linebacker.”
In other words, he’s a prototype. And he’s hungry.
“There’s a chip on his shoulder. You can tell,” Wheeler said. “Some players in the league have a chip on their shoulder. They’ve got some X factor that makes him, I don’t know, different or unique.”