How do you stop Khalil Mack? ‘Put, like, three guys on him’

JJ STANKEVITZ
NBC Sports Chicago

Khalil Mack is one of the NFL's true game-wreckers, the kind of guy who can make a significant impact even if his opponent puts together the most careful gameplan to try to stop him from doing so.

Take this anecdote relayed by NBC Sports' Peter King about Mack:

"I was talking to Saints coach Sean Payton over the weekend, and the Khalil Mack trade to Chicago came up. "The last time we played Oakland [Week 1 2016], we put in a special protection for him," Payton said. If Mack lined up outside the right tackle to rush, the Saints' tight end would line up on the right side and chip him as he rushed. If Mack lined up opposite the left tackle, the tight end would shift left. The Saints called it "Mack Protection" in the gameplan that week."

That strategy worked, sort of. Mack only recorded two pressures in that game, but it also freed up Bruce Irvin (Mack's edge rushing teammate who tweeted "no f-ing way" after the trade) to notch one sack and four total pressures, per Pro Football Focus.

Having a tight end follow Mack around is one strategy used by opposing coaches to try to limit his impact on a game. Bears coach Matt Nagy was been a part of those strategic discussions for four years with the Kansas City Chiefs, when playing Mack (and Von Miller) twice a year was a headache-inducing fact of life in the AFC West.

So what's the best strategy of stopping Mack?

"Put, like, three guys on him," Nagy said.

Nagy expanded on that thought on Monday.

"We had several ideas and thoughts that we used in that gameplan when we played them," Nagy said. "So that's hard because now you're going in one-on-ones in other places and when teams have other good players. And he does that - you're taking one for the team, essentially. Again you'll see, there's times when people put like three guys on him and you're taking away a receiver somehow, some way in the pass game."

Those three players could be a tackle, a tight end and a running back, with the latter two needing to work in pass protection to make sure the quarterback stays upright. Or it could be a tackle and a guard working to double-team him, exposing another offensive lineman to a one-on-one matchup with an edge rusher.

No matter what a team does, though, Mack is a problem. It can become a game of pick your poison, since you can only commit so many players to stopping one guy. And even then, Mack has shown an ability to beat double, and even triple, teams to still pressure a quarterback.

"He's a hell of a player that plays fast, that makes usually try to - you have to know where he's at, you just do," Nagy said. "He demands that from offenses. … I think you'll see, foremost, offensive coordinators/play callers/players, they respect the heck out of them because they know he's a good player.

"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. And then you've got to be able to trust in that.

"But that's no secret. That's just what everybody does."

Respect from the other point of view

While Nagy developed a healthy respect for Mack in Kansas City, the same can be said for Mack's view of Nagy's offense.

While Mack only played the Chiefs once while Nagy was the play caller, and he had four pressures in that Week 14 game last year, what his new head coach's offense did left an impression on him.

"He threw a lot of different things at me, man," Nagy said. "Played double tight ends and different formations, mixed it up and played fast. They did a great job of managing the game and playing fast and playing smart.

"He made it hard for you because if you messed up, then they were going to gut you and yeah, they had a lot of good pieces down there, as well. So I'm looking forward to see what they do here."

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