The Minnesota Vikings had a tough time containing Khalil Mack in their earlier matchup, but they’ll have to neutralize him to get to the playoffs.
The last time the Minnesota Vikings saw the Chicago Bears, it did not go well for their offensive line. The Bears’ front seven dominated the Vikings’ weakest unit and even though they only had two sacks on the evening, Kirk Cousins was under pressure from the opening kickoff. With Cousins seeing ghosts in the pocket, the Bears were able to get a 25-20 victory that sent them on their way to securing the NFC North title.
As the Vikings gear up for a crucial Week 17 matchup with the Bears, a lot of the same problems remain. Although the offensive line has played better in the past couple of weeks, the fronts of the Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions are nowhere near as strong as the Bears. While there are many pieces that have made Chicago’s defense a problem for opponents, the one component that has put them over the top has been Khalil Mack.
When the Bears acquired Mack from the Oakland Raiders just before the start of the season, it was seen as a step in the right direction. With the Vikings the preseason favorites to win the division, Chicago’s ceiling could have been to leapfrog the Green Bay Packers and sneak into the playoff picture (aka the same situation the Vikings are in right now), but instead of a cute little jump and a chance to become 2019’s sleeper team next fall, Mack brought the Bears’ future to the present.
Mack’s season has been one that could be mentioned for MVP consideration if it weren’t for its almost exclusive fixation with the quarterback position and two missed games due to a groin injury. With 12.5 sacks, an interception (returned for a touchdown) and six forced fumbles this season (two of which Mack recovered) Mack has taken the Bears from 5-11 a year ago to 11-4 in 2018.
With all of that considered, the Vikings need to find a way to stop Mack from being the wrecking ball he was in their last meeting. Minnesota’s demise in that game started on their second drive as Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray started to get the ball moving on the ground.
As the Vikings approached a 1st and 10 from the Chicago 14, Mack bulldozed Kyle Rudolph into a pulling Mike Remmers and was able to strip Cook, recover the fumble and thwart the momentum Minnesota had established on that drive.
Mack also possesses elite speed from the edge that he showed on a drive deep in the third quarter. With the Vikings on the Chicago 17, Mack would fake going in on the left edge to draw in Cook. When Cook whiffed, Mack turned on the jets to find an opening in the middle of the line and take down Cousins and eventually leave the Minnesota Vikings settling for a field goal.
With power and speed, Mack is a major concern for the Vikings. The good news is that the Vikings should have David Morgan back, who missed the previous matchup with a knee injury. As a superior blocker to Rudolph, Morgan should be able to offer a little more resistance and help Riley Reiff and Brian O’Neill on the outside while also clearing more of a path for the Vikings running game.
With the Minnesota Vikings potentially having to beat the Bears twice in the next two weeks, Mack will be a major obstacle in Minnesota’s hopes to make a long playoff run.