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Bleacher Report – Vikings

How will the Vikings slow down Khalil Mack?

By Matthew Coller

EAGAN, Minn. – Nobody really wants to say it, but you can imagine the Minnesota Vikings were probably not the happiest organization in the NFL when the Oakland Raiders traded superstar pass rusher Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears prior to the start of this season.

Mack has been everything Chicago dreamed about when watching him throttle the AFC West. In 444 pass rush snaps as a Bear, the former defensive MVP has 12.5 sacks, seven QB hit and 45 hurries. Put another way, he is impacting the opposing team’s quarterback once every seven drop backs.

“He is a great combination of size, athleticism, power, effort,” interim offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski said. “Just turn the tape on. He is an impressive player. He certainly is someone that we have to account for in a bunch of different ways. That is why we are out here working and implementing that plan.”

Earlier this year, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer reached back a few decades for the last time he could remember a defensive player’s change of scenery impacting a division quite the way Mack has with the NFC North.

“I think Reggie White was kind of like that when he went from Philadelphia to Green Bay, but that’s a long time ago,” Zimmer said Wednesday. “They were a pretty darn good defense a year ago. They were I think a top-10 defense a year ago. Obviously they’ve improved, they’re healthy, I don’t think they’ve had a lot of injuries defensively, and adding a guy like him is going to be a big factor in getting them better. I think it allows them to play the style of defense that they would like to play.”

Chicago ranks fourth in the NFL in yards allowed, second in yards per play allowed, third in total points allowed and No. 1 in opposing quarterback rating.

“I think he’s added a lot of swagger to the football team,” Zimmer said of Mack before the two teams’ first matchup. “I think they have swagger anyway, but I think he’s added some to it knowing that they’ve got a guy of his caliber that’s in there. He really adds a lot of physicality to their defense, I think that’s part of it. Not just the rush part, everybody knows he’s a good rusher, but the physicality of defeating a tight end, defeating an offensive tackle, the aggressive nature that he plays with, I think that probably adds to all the other guys.”

Mack and the Chicago defense ran the Vikings out of the building in the first matchup between the two teams. He finished the game with five QB pressures and a forced fumble.

Competing with the Bears’ dominate defense will start with the Vikings’ ability to protect Kirk Cousins, whose pressure rate has seen a significant drop since Stefanski took over as the team’s play caller.

Kirk Cousins is the only quarterback to have been pressured more than 200 times this season, but has been pressured much less under new OC Kevin Stefanski despite a longer average time to throw…

Week 1-14: 14.8 pressures/game
Week 15-16: 4.5 pressures/game#CHIvsMIN #Skol

— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) December 26, 2018

Rookie right tackle Brian O’Neill did not see the majority of Mack’s rushes, but that could be one change Chicago makes going into Sunday’s game. They sent Mack off the left side in the November 18 matchup. The Vikings’ second-round pick from Pitt has been a bright spot for the Vikings having not allowed a sack yet in 488 pass rush snaps. However, the last time he matched up against an elite edge rusher in Cameron Jordan, he gave up three hurries and two QB hits. He also gave up five pressures against Seattle.

Slowing down Mack completely is a near impossible task, but mitigating his impact on the game will be the Vikings’ goal — and while O’Neill will be in the spotlight, negating his pass rush will take a complete effort.

The team that has best handled Mack this season was the Miami Dolphins, who only gave up one pressure on 33 pass rush snaps.

NFL Network’s Brian Baldinger broke down tape on how the Dolphins succeeded:

The Dolphins were willing to triple team Mack at times, which forced the rest of the offensive line to step up against Akiem Hicks, who is an elite defensive tackle. They also ran the ball effectively, taking pressure off of the passing game and used tight ends and running backs to assist in the blocking game.

The Vikings may have an easier time using an extra body in this week’s matchup because tight end David Morgan will be in the lineup. He missed the first game with a knee injury.

Of course, as the Lions proved a few weeks later, just throwing a tight end at Mack doesn’t slow him down.

#Bears tape: Khalil Mack beats the TE chip and then the OT for the sack.

Pretty ridiculous. Enjoy.#DaBears @ChicagoBears

— NFL Matchup on ESPN (@NFLMatchup) November 12, 2018

Miami also used tempo to wear down the Bears’ defense.

“We were playing in no-huddle, which isn’t easy to do in this system because there’s so much verbiage, there’s so many checks, audibles, and our offensive line did a tremendous job and those guys are the real story, because without them we don’t play the way we did today,” quarterback Brock Osweiler told reporters after the game.

The Vikings already have a quick-pass offense and a quarterback who is routinely under duress, so they have been working all year to overcome pressure and have still performed admirably as an offense. One of the ways the Vikings have slowed down rushes over the last two weeks is an increase in play-action.

“I just feel like play-actions are difficult on defenses,” Zimmer said. “You start getting them moving forward in the running game, get them out of their spots a little bit and they have to run and react to other places. Play-actions are hard on defenses. It tends to be a little bit more space for guys in the open field, some of them are moving passes and some of them are not. It just depends.”

But Mack and the Bears are a different type of challenge, having forced 36 total turnovers. Sunday’s game will mark the toughest test yet for Stefanski.

The post How will the Vikings slow down Khalil Mack? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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