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Defense fueled by Mack attacks
The Khalil Mack effect has enveloped the Chicago Bears.
So far it's bolstered their defense to elite status, helped carried the team through a rough offensive stretch and brought them somewhere they hadn't been for 38 consecutive NFL calendar weeks out of last place in the NFC North.
Whether it can help the Bears (1-1) overcome a different obstacle Sunday on the road against the struggling Arizona Cardinals remains to be seen.
The obstacle is overconfidence.
"It's going to be tough," Mack said. "It's something you're looking forward to, another challenge, another week. It will be a short one. We've got to get ready."
Statistics and the Cardinals' 0-2 start suggest the challenge may come from within for Chicago. Then again, the Bears haven't really had the luxury of looking past anyone over the last four years.
Arizona has only 350 yards of offense and allowed 861 while getting outscored 58-6 in its first two games under new coach Steve Wilks, a former Bears defensive backs coach under Lovie Smith
"Just like last week where it was coming off of a difficult loss, now the team is feeling good in the fact that we got a win," Chicago coach Matt Nagy said. "Sometimes when you have that, with bad teams complacency sinks in."
Nagy wants the Bears handling success like he perceives a good team would.
"We want our guys to continue to stay hungry, to realize how important it is to stack wins on top of each other," Nagy said.
Obviously, Mack's presence has certainly elevated expectations, along with the play of the Bears' defense. Mack has strip-sacks coming around the corner in each of his first two games, in addition to recovering a fumble and returning an interception for a touchdown. The effect is a feeding frenzy of sorts for a defense leading the NFL in sacks with 10.
"If you can't tell, it's very contagious," Mack said.
Linebacker Leonard Floyd called Mack a good example for younger players like himself to imitate as the defense strives to improve.
"I believe for us, just seeing it happen, you'll want to go out and do it yourself," Floyd said. "It definitely motivates the rest of the team to go out and make those types of plays.
"It's definitely a skill you can learn. It's a skill of just wanting to get the ball out. Just when you get the opportunity, you want to force a turnover."
Mack's specialty has been coming in tight around the edge and hitting the ball as the quarterback takes back his arm. Learning it is not entirely easy, although it would be easier for Floyd if he didn't have to contend with the ball cast on his hand due to fractures.
"You can teach it but I don't know if you're going to get it," Nagy said. "And with (Mack), you just see, he cuts angles downs so well. So once he hits around that edge, he's so athletic and has such a good feel for the pocket or the quarterback. You saw him just reach his arm out and just tap the ball."
Mack does work at this but the Bears have to call the dogs off to preserve backup quarterback Chase Daniel in practice.
"The ball is the most important thing on the field," Mack said. "You can get the big hits. But the ball is very, very important, especially in a game."
Chicago owns the NFL record for sacks with 72 in 1984. No one is talking about that as a lofty goal. Then again, considering just getting a second straight win is the goal, no one should.
The Bears haven't won two straight since last October, and haven't won three in a row since the first three games of 2013.
"Consistency is what you want, especially from a defense on the road," Mack said. "It's going to be very important to go out, pack our defense and do what we're capable of doing.
"But even then, those guys over there get paid as well. They're coming out here trying to win the game."
SERIES HISTORY: 91st regular-season meeting. Bears lead series, 56-28-6. The Cardinals won the last game 48-23 in 2015 in Chicago. The teams have split the last four. The Bears' last win was in Arizona, 28-13 in 2012. It's a rivalry dating to the first year of the NFL when the Cardinals played in Racine, Wis., and the Bears in Decatur, Ill. They were crosstown rivals in Chicago until 1960 and even shared Wrigley Field for the better part of a decade in the 1930s.