LONDON — Quotes can lie.
“It’s another game, man.”
“It’s no big deal to me, man.”
“You could say the Raider thing and all that but ultimately it’s the team that we gotta beat.”
These are all things Khalil Mack has said this week as the Bears get ready to face the team that traded him.
Understand this: Khalil Mack can’t wait to play the Raiders.
That’s where we’ll start this international edition of 10 Bears Things, as we go in-depth with the Bears’ first game in London since 2011.
1. Mack Is Ready For The Raiders
Notice that I didn’t call Khalil Mack a liar. His quotes were lies. Mack made it very clear with body language and subtle hints that this game means more to him. He did a brilliant job of exuding his true feelings while not giving the Raiders any bulletin board material.
One example: Tuesday, when a reporter asked him if he needs to repress feelings of “vindictiveness” towards the Raiders, Mack interrupted, smiled widely, and said: “Vindictiveness. I like that word.”
And, finally, when pressed on whether or not those feelings can fuel him Sunday, Mack cracked:
“Yeah, man. You can’t tell? I mean, nah. Yeah, you could say I’m suppressing the emotional side of it. But the other side is to go out and make them pay for it.”
It’s notable that Mack, who rarely talks to reporters more than once a week, obliged with two media sessions this week, once in Chicago and again in London on Friday. How he’s handled himself leading up to the game is a story, but the real story is what he does on the field against the Raiders.
And, for the record, Mack is more than capable of providing good quotes when the timing is right. When asked Friday what he’s proud of so far in his time with the Bears, Mack’s face turned serious and he said: “I feel like the championship is the ultimate thing to be proud of. That’s what we’re working toward. Until we get there, I ain’t really going to be able to tell you much else about being proud.”
2. Gruden Loves The Bears, Hates Talking About Mack
Not surprisingly, Raiders head coach Jon Gruden has done everything possible not to talk about Khalil Mack this week. On a conference call with Chicago reporters this week, Gruden said:
“I’m not going to get into all the drama. We wanted to sign Mack, OK? We didn’t want to trade him. I wish him the best. I’m not rehashing all the drama. We wanted to have him. We couldn’t make it happen and we were able to get a couple draft picks.”
When asked about Mack this week by Raiders’ reporters, Gruden has gone out of his way to praise the talent around Mack. The premise is valid, and yet slightly disrespectful to a player that was just as good in Oakland where he had less talent around him. That said, Gruden’s comments about other players on the Bears’ defense have been accurate and entertaining. Here’s a list:
On Eddie Goldman: “No one even talks about him. Like he’s not even on the defense. He’s the best inside run defender I have seen this year.”
On Akiem Hicks: “Goodness gracious.”
On Roy Robertson-Harris: “I don’t know who this No. 95 is, but they have a rotation in there that’s very good.”
On Leonard Floyd: “Floyd is not a bag of rocks. The guy’s a great player.”
On Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith: “Trevathan is a world champion, every-down buzzsaw. He’s got great instincts and if you get a hole, he recovers and makes the tackle immediately. Roquan Smith is a top-10 pick also, so good luck.”
3. Roquan Is Ready To Play
I’m still not entirely sure what to make of the Roquan Smith situation. It’s possible — perhaps likely — that Smith is dealing with something in his life that is truly personal. Something that neither he nor the Bears need to have any obligation to reveal.
However, that doesn’t mean that he didn’t also do something that violated team rules. It’s very interesting that head coach Matt Nagy declined to rule out legal issues or disciplinary issues. You would think that if Smith was completely innocent of any wrongdoing, the team would go to bat for him — especially with all the rumors flying around on social media. That means it was either a situation poorly handled by the team or a situation handled exactly how the team wanted it to be handled.
Smith has been full-go in practice this week and will play Sunday. So is it possible that last week’s game was essentially a one-game suspension? Until the Bears say otherwise, it can’t be ruled out.
4. Injuries: Concern Level
Here’s another weekly look at the Bears’ lengthy list of injuries and my level of concern going forward:
QB Mitchell Trubisky (shoulder) — Concern level: HIGH. The good news is that Trubisky did not injure his throwing shoulder. But that’s pretty much the only good news. My expectation is that Trubisky returns after the bye week, but this is still a significant shoulder injury. Will it affect his mechanics? Will it limit his willingness to scramble and take a hit? Will he be even less willing to stay in the pocket to deliver a throw? These are all valid questions. At a minimum, this injury is significant as Trubisky navigates a crucial third year in his development.
WR Taylor Gabriel (concussion) — Concern level: HIGH. Gabriel still hasn’t practiced since suffering his concussion against Washington in Week 3 and he didn’t even make the trip to London. The bye week comes at a good time, but you have to wonder how long the symptoms will last.
DT Bilal Nichols (hand) — Concern level: HIGH. Nichols still hasn’t practiced since hurting his hand against the Broncos and he was ruled out against the Raiders even though he traveled to London. The Bears obviously have great depth on the defensive line, so they are likely using that to their advantage to get him healthy.
DT Akiem Hicks (knee) — Concern level: MODERATE. Hicks’ knee issue likely won’t go away this season, but he is improving and was back on the practice field Friday in London. There’s optimism he’ll play Sunday. If he doesn’t, he should be good to go after the bye.
RG Kyle Long (hip) — Concern level: MODERATE. After missing last week’s game, Long will play Sunday, but it’s fair to wonder if the hip injury is impacting his play.
OL Ted Larsen (knee) — Concern level: MODERATE. Larsen did not practice all week and did not make the trip to London. It’s not serious enough to put him on injured reserve, but it does hurt the depth on the offensive line, especially because he can backup at center too. If James Daniels were to get hurt, Cody Whitehair would probably have to slide back to center.
K Eddy Pineiro (knee) — Concern level: LOW. The pinched nerve in Pineiro’s kicking leg has subsided and he practiced in full this week.
5. The Opponent: Oakland Raiders
At 2-2, the Raiders are exceeding expectations. They looked lifeless against the Vikings two weeks ago, but responded with an impressive win in Indianapolis last week. In the middle of a brutal six-week stretch of not playing any home games, Jon Gruden has his team embracing the idea of being road warriors.
Oakland is dealing with its own long list of injuries though. They have a great offensive line, but right guard Gabe Jackson (knee) won’t play Sunday and left guard Richie Incognito (back) is questionable. Three of the Raiders’ six wide receivers are also questionable, including top wideout Tyrell Williams. First round defensive end Clelin Ferrell hasn’t practiced all week with a concussion.
The Raiders are young. After stockpiling draft picks (some via the Mack trade) they have 13 rookies on their 53-man roster. That’s nearly a quarter of the team. They used the Bears’ 2019 first round pick on Alabama running back Josh Jacobs, who is off to a great start while carrying a much higher workload than he had in college. Jacobs is a threat both running and catching the football, but does have a bad habit of bringing the ball away from his body. So far that hasn’t led to a fumble, but look for the Bears to punch one out Sunday.
The tight end position has become a big weapon for Oakland. With limited options at wideout after the short-lived Antonio Brown era, tight end Darren Waller has emerged as a legitimate pass-catching tight end. Getting linebacker Roquan Smith back this week will be important in that matchup.
Defensively, the Raiders are missing rookie safety Jonathan Abram, who looked great in Week 1 but then landed on injured reserve. As a whole, the defense showed little resistance against the Vikings two weeks ago.
6. The Pick
Bears 30, Raiders 10
I can listen to an argument in which the Bears come out flat and have a let-down game. They’ve dealt with adversity this week and opted to do the shorter trip to London. I just personally don’t see that happening with Mack facing his former team. This should be one of those signature Mack-game-wrecking performances and if the defense gets its takeaways then the offense should be able to score, even with Chase Daniel at quarterback.
7. Quote Of The Week
“We might need five downs against the Bears. — Jon Gruden talking about fourth down opportunities against the Bears defense.
8. Tweet of the Week
Like they always say in London: Watch out for the hurricanes.
This turned out to be no big deal, but it did make make my connection in Dublin interesting. Landing and taking off in Ireland was a bit of a roller coaster. That said, it is supposed to start raining in London Saturday night and not stop until sometime Sunday evening. Kickoff at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is at 6 p.m. GMT (Noon in Chicago) so there’s a chance it will stop raining during the game.
9. Emptying The Notebook
If nothing else, the Raiders will get a seventh round pick from the Bears in this game. Week 5 is when the conditional seventh round pick for Eddy Pineiro kicks in. That reminds me of a quote Pineiro delivered in training camp: “The Raiders gave me away for pennies.” So far, he’s been worth every penny (or pence) … Speaking of Pineiro, he is the first player of Nicaraguan descent to play in the NFL and Nicaragua’s U.K. ambassador was at practice Friday to present him with a plaque recognizing that accomplishment. “Being the first player from Nicaragua to play in the NFL, it’s a cool deal. Seeing what my mom went through when she was a kid and then for her to get to the U.S., it means a lot to me to give this to her. I’m going to give this to her. She deserves it.” … Nagy started Friday’s practice with a dance-off between Tarik Cohen and reserve linebacker Josh Woods. “That’s us to a T, as the Chicago Bears,” Chase Daniel said. “That’s the culture we have here.” An international reporter responded by saying that it was similar to the 1985 Chicago Bears. Daniel quickly responded with a laugh: “Well, yeah. Don’t go there.”
10. Final Thoughts
— I’m really curious to see what the fan base at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium looks like on Sunday. There will certainly be some Raiders fans and there will certainly be some locals that are curious to see the first American Football game at the new stadium, but more than anything, it seems like there are a ton of Bears fans in London. Most of the those fans traveled here, but Will Gavin, who is a radio host for TalkSPORT in London, told me back at the Super Bowl in February that the Bears have an extra special presence in the United Kingdom because the 1985 Bears were the first team the country fell in love with as the sport reached Europe (Kevin Fishbain has a great story on this in The Athletic). While this is technically a home game for the Raiders, I get the feeling that this will be more like a ninth home game for the Bears instead.
— Ever since the NFL moved the extra point back to 33 yards in 2015, I’ve been arguing that when you are trailing by 14 late in a game and score a touchdown, you should go for two instead of kicking the extra point. Here’s why: Because if you are down 14 and are fortunate enough to score two touchdowns and hit two extra points, your best outcome is to tie the game and go to overtime, where you can still lose. And that’s assuming your kicker doesn’t miss one of the extra points, which is no longer a chip shot. Now, the two-point conversion rate varies by team, but in general, it’s somewhere just below 50 percent. That means if you go for two twice, your odds of converting one of them is MUCH higher than the odds of not converting either one. This leaves three outcomes:
1. You convert the first two-point conversion and are now in position to win the game in regulation if you are fortunate enough to score a second touchdown.
2. You don’t convert the first two-point conversion, but still have the second opportunity to get back on schedule if you are fortunate enough to score a second touchdown.
3. You don’t convert either two-point conversion and lose the game.
The thing about the third outcome is that it was always an unlikely scenario to win the game. At least one of these three options gave you the possibility of winning in regulation. This is the way the analytics evaluate the situation — and why they argue you should go for two when you score a late touchdown to trail by eight points.
I bring all of this up because Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald has been under criticism for going for two after his team cut Wisconsin’s lead to 24-9 in the fourth quarter last weekend. They did not convert the two-point converstion. And then, after scoring another touchdown, Fitz opted to go for two and missed, leaving the Wildcats down nine points — a two-possession deficit. I’ll admit that I was confused by the decisions at the time. However, I didn’t think about the fact that it was pretty much the same logic I just laid out, except down by 21 points (instead of 14) with a little bit more time to go. Remember, winning a game in that situation is always an unlikely scenario, but the analytics show that going for two increases your win probability. It gives you the best opportunity to score the most points you can when you have the best opportunity to score those points — near your opponent’s goal line. You might not like the logic, but the analytics show that it’s the right call, especially — and this is key — if you plan on going for two to win the game at the end of regulation anyway. If that is your plan, you might as well go for it earlier, because if you miss, there’s still time on the clock to change the outcome — no matter how unlikely it is. If the clock hits 0:00, there’s nothing you can do to change the outcome. As long as it’s not at 0:00, you have a chance.
I believe there’s a coach who recently said: “One second and the ball. That’s all we need.”