Film review: Why wasn’t Khalil Mack an effective pass rusher against the Patriots?

Khalil Mack was not 100 percent against the New England Patriots, a development that became abundantly clear over the course of the Bears’ 38-31 loss.

Mack rushed Tom Brady on only 16 of his 54 snaps, dropping into coverage more frequently (18 times) than he tried to get after the quarterback, according to Pro Football Focus. He didn’t record a sack or a quarterback hit, and while PFF credited him with two pressures, his impact was far more limited than it was in the first four weeks of the season.

So what went wrong? Was his ineffectiveness due to a bum ankle, or something Brady and the Patriots did?

The answer is somewhere in between, after reviewing the 15 clear pass rushing snaps Mack had (the 16th came on a pop pass touchdown to James White, and while it technically counts in PFF’s totals, there was no opportunity for anyone to rush Brady given he got rid of the ball in about a third of a second).

The blow-by-blow:

No. 1: Mack is lined up, as he was for almost all of these snaps, over the left side of New England’s offensive line. Tight end Dwayne Allen blocks him on play-action, which delays Mack’s rush a bit. While Brady takes about 2.8 seconds to get the ball out on a short pass to running back Sony Michel, the throw goes away from Mack, and he doesn’t have much of a chance on this play. Still, he isn’t able to beat Allen, which becomes a theme here.

No. 2: Left tackle Trent Brown has Mack singled, and immediately retreats as soon as the ball is snapped. But that’s by design — running back James White leaks out in the flat, and as soon as Mack engages Brown (instead of being responsible for covering White), Brady dumps the ball off to his running back for a gain of 14 yards. There wasn’t much Mack could’ve done differently here, though New England’s first drive of the game ends with Mack missing a tackle on a Julian Edelman touchdown.

No. 3: From the left, White chips Mack, and instead of engaging with Brown, Mack flows back toward the middle of the field as Brady throws a short pass over the middle. Brady needed just a shade under three seconds to get the ball out on this pass.

No. 4: This began as one of Mack’s better pass rushes of the game. With his hand in the ground on third-and-seven, Mack has a strong rush toward Brown and executes a good spin move on the left tackle. But Brown was able to re-set and re-gain leverage on Mack after the spin move, taking Mack out of the play. Leonard Floyd, rushing from the right, pressures Brady and forces him to scramble. But from the time Brady got the snap to when he decided to scramble, about 4.3 seconds go by.

No. 5: This was the fourth-and-one conversion from Brady to Josh Gordon. While Brady essentially stares down Gordon and leaves his blind side exposed to Mack, he throws the pass about 1.5 seconds after receiving the snap.

No. 6. Another quick throw that gets out in a second and a half. By the time Mack engages with Brown, Brady already has got rid of the ball.

No. 7: Allen motions from right to left near the goal line, with his responsibility to block Mack — though Mack doesn’t immediately rush at Allen. By the time Mack beats Allen, Brady — who was rolling to his left, toward Mack — is throwing the ball, though the pass falls incomplete.

No. 8: Mack is able to pressure Brady by knocking Brown back, and Floyd forces Brady to step up in the pocket. Mack dis-engages and goes back toward the line of scrimmage to chase Brady, forcing him to get the ball out quickly for an incompletion.

No. 9: Mack gets doubled on the left and is a non-factor. The sideline mic picks up someone yelling “get him, Leonard” but Floyd slips to the ground while one-on-one with backup right tackle LaAdrian Waddle. Akiem Hicks, though, provides pressure up the middle and forces Brady to throw deep and out of bounds, though he had a little over three seconds to make that decision.

No. 10: Near the goal line, the Patriots go hurry-up from under center, and Mack is barely set when the ball is snapped. Roquan Smith and Bilal Nichols, though, quickly generate pressure up the middle, leading to the Bears’ only sack of the game.

No. 11: On another quick throw — Brady gets it out in about a second and a half — Brown throws his right shoulder into Mack, making sure he has no chance of affecting the play.

No. 12: Mack goes to the inside shoulder of Brown and picks up left guard Joe Thuney on a stunt with Eddie Goldman, which generates some pressure, but Brady makes a short throw a little under three seconds after receiving the snap that’s dropped by White.

No. 13: This was one of Mack’s most disappointing pass rushing snaps. Facing a third and two after Mitch Trubisky’s second interception, Mack is one-on-one with Brown and isn’t able to mount any pressure, allowing Brady to easily pick out White in about 2.2 seconds for a first down.

No. 14: Mack is lined up to the right this time but gets successfully chipped by Allen. By the time Brady throws the ball, Mack is about five yards from the quarterback, and this pass went for 55 yards to Josh Gordon, setting up a touchdown.

No. 15: Mack is one-on-one with Brown and doesn’t mount pressure, though Roy Robertson-Harris does, forcing Brady to make an ill-advised throw that’s picked off by Kyle Fuller.

Some visual evidence:


The verdict: New England did occasionally commit multiple players to Mack, but frequently it was only the left tackle (Brown) or the tight end (Allen) who were on him. And while Brady is a master of getting the ball out quick and protecting his body, he didn’t seem bothered by Mack at all.

The quick throws would’ve been part of New England’s gameplan if Mack were healthy, but chances are the Patriots wouldn’t have singled Mack as much as they did — and almost certainly not with a tight end. That Brown and Allen had the success they did blocking Mack (Allen, in particular, was excellent in blocking Mack while the Patriots were running the ball late in the fourth quarter) speaks to Mack not being 100 percent.

The Bears may not get Mack back to 100 percent in the near future, though Nagy said the highest paid defensive player in the NFL is “kind of a freak in regards to his health and how he goes and pain tolerance.” Chances are, Mack will continue to play — he’s never missed a game in his career — but if he does, the Bears need to get more production out of him, especially when there’s only one player keeping him from the opposing quarterback.

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