Mack math: How the Bears hope Khalil becomes a ‘multiplier’ in return Sunday

Sitting on the sideline the last two weeks, Khalil Mack was excited by too many Bears defenders to mention — though he tried.

“You’ve got Bryce, Eddie — both Eddies: Little Eddie, Big Eddie — and Akiem,” he said Friday. “Aaron was balling, ‘Flo’ was getting in his rhythm. Kyle, Prince, all the guys.”

With Mack gone, his fellow defenders — in order, Bryce Callahan, Eddies Jackson and Goldman, Akiem Hicks, Aaron Lynch, Leonard Floyd, Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara — emerged from his considerable shadow. They allowed only one touchdown and one field goal in each of the two games without him. The last time something similar happened was, well, when the same unit gave up a total of three touchdowns and eight field goals in Weeks 13-16 last year.

That’s the most intriguing part of Mack’s return to action Sunday against the Lions — how the star outside linebacker fits back into a defense that, the past two weeks, resembled its top-10 ranking last year.

“That’s what I’m trying to tell y’all,” Mack said. “I’m excited to come here and play with these guys, knowing that they have the talent that they have. Even without me, it’s a hell of a thing.

“I’m excited to be a part of the party this week and get ready for Detroit.”

Matt Nagy has a word for what Mack brings to the defense. He’s a “multiplier,” someone who can make good players even better.

“Our guys have a lot of confidence in themselves,” the Bears coach said. “We felt that way when we were in training camp and heading into the season. And when we added Khalil in the trade, he just elevated everybody’s trade even more.”

Mack forced a fumble in each of his first four games, totaling five sacks as the Bears started 3-1. He hurt his right ankle in the first half against the Dolphins and was hobbled the rest of the game. The next week against the Patriots, he played coverage more than at any point in his career.

The Bears decided to sit Mack for the Jets and Bills wins with their eye on a three-game, 12-day stretch, starting Sunday, against the three NFC North teams. Sunday is a soft landing spot for his return — the Lions allowed 10 sacks against the Vikings last week.

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio seemed to send a message earlier in the week, though, when he said that Mack’s knowledge of the defense was “not where he needs to be, or where we want him to be” because he’s missed practice time and game action. He praised Mack’s preparation, though, and said he’ll play more decisively in pass coverage as he gets to know the Bears defense better.

“Just more confidence in what to do and how to do it for us,” he said. “And hopefully a little faster reactions.”

Mack wasn’t too concerned about it.

“I’ve been doing this for five years now, rushing and dropping,” he said. “It’s nothing that’s too difficult.”

Safety Adrian Amos understands the outside infatuation with Mack, though the begrudging star doesn’t seek it out. The highest-paid defender in NFL history has earned the right to be talked about as such.

“But don’t downplay the rest of the defense, because this defense was top-10 last year,” Amos said. “He’s a rare talent. … I feel like we’re a good defense. It’s not just one person and one thing.”

Having played alongside Peyton Manning and Von Miller with the Broncos, inside linebacker Danny Trevathan understands the media attention that comes with playing alongside superstars. After proving their worth without Mack, the Bears are ready to see how elite their defense will become with him healthy.

That’s the power of a “multiplier.”

“He’s a baller,” Trevathan said. “I dunno how guys feel, but I like to win.”

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