Oct 30, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack (52) high fives fans after the beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in overtime at Raymond James Stadium. Oakland Raiders defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30-24 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
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Many wondered where Oakland Raiders DE/OLB Khalil Mack went at the start of the season. But with the NFL world’s eye on Von Miller, Mack has arrived on schedule.
Khalil Mack got off to a slow start to the 2017 NFL season and the defense suffered because of it. QB Derek Carr lit up the scoreboard every week to keep the Raiders afloat. That puthim in the conversation for NFL MVP for the first half of the season.
And Denver Broncos OLB Von Miller was looked at as the most dominant defensive player in the NFL. Meanwhile, we all wanted to know what happened to Mack after breaking out last year. He pressured the QB more in the beginning of his rookie season than this season.
Some of us thought he needed to move back to OLB and play DE in the sub-package only. Then there’s the absence of fellow OLB Aldon Smith back (suspension) and DE Mario Edward Jr. (injury). Everyone needs their teammates but it turns out it was Mack.
He’s just a slow starter but when he’s on, he takes over football games and drastically improves his defense. So it’s not about him missing his injured teammates. It’s about him carrying his healthy teammates and there’s evidence he can do that.
Dec 21, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Buffalo Bills quarterback Kyle Orton (18) is pressured by Oakland Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack (52) at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The Raiders drafted Mack at No. 5 overall in 2014 so he had horrible teammates around him. He came in and showed flashes right away with a lot of pressures and tackles for losses in the run game. But you can’t call yourself a dominant pass-rusher without sacks.
So Raiders fans as well as straight-up football fans waited a long time to see dominance. Mack didn’t record his first sack until the team’s 10th game of the season. It was at that point that he seemed to be figuring out what he needed to do.
From there, more tackles for losses, sacks, and pressures came and he finished with four that year. Also for the whole 2014 season, the Raiders finished ranked No. 21 in total defense. Before Mack got going, the Raiders gave up 372 yards per game, which had them at the bottom of the NFL.
But once he got going, the Raiders gave up 339 yards per game with nothing around him. That per game average would have had the Raiders in the Top-10 in total defense for the season. All Mack had was Charles Woodson at S and he made the defense that much better.
Dec 13, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack (52) strip sacks Denver Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler (17) in the end zone in the third quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
After a strong finish to his rookie season, Mack had the football world expecting big things. Young players usually make that jump to Year 2 so we all expecting Mack to come out. But instead, Mack started off slow again and the defense stumbled out of the gate.
It was better than his rookie year but four sacks in his first 10 games don’t make a legend. His defense wasn’t exactly legendary either, giving up 405 yards per game. That would have had the Raiders around the bottom of the league somewhere too.
But the Raiders would climb up to No. 21 in the NFL again, thanks to Mack going on a tear. He had eight sacks in the last six games and at least one in four straight. Mack also had 3-straight multiple sack games, including a five against the Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos.
During that stretch, they gave up 294 yards per game, good for No. 3 in the NFL over that season. Mack’s cast was a little better and his 7-9 Raiders went 3-3 for the last six games. He had the Raiders playing like a Top-3 defense if you can believe that.
And for his efforts he was an All-Pro at DE and OLB!
Nov 6, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack (52) points towards the crowd after a defensive stop against the Denver Broncos in the third quarter at Oakland Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Broncos 30-20. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
After such a great season we thought he would surely pick up where he left off last year. But he started slowly again and the defense was horrible, giving up 445 yards per game. Mack had two sacks in that stretch and wasn’t as dominant against the run.
But he now has at least one sack in each of his last four games. He has two sacks in each of his last two games and a total of 21 pressures in that span. But his AFC Defensive Player of the Week performance Sunday night in Week 9 against the Broncos was special.
Mack had two tackles for losses, a pass defended, two QB hits, two sacks and eight hurries. He recovered the fumble he forced on one of those sacks and one of his pressures forced an INT. And both of those plays had a hand in the outcome of the game.
Mack has been thoroughly dominating opposing offenses over the last three games. In that stretch, the Raiders have given up 304 yards per game and won three in a row. The Raiders would be No. 4 in the NFL in total defense if they played like that all year.
Oct 30, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack (52) reacts after he made tackle against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Oakland Raiders defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30-24 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
His rookie year, it took Mack 10 games to start to show what he was capable of. Then last year, he took half of a season to become one of the NFL’s most dominant players. This year, it took about six games to wake up and dominate the way he can.
And when Mack dominates, it makes the Raiders defense as a whole much better. When he came on at the end of his rookie year with nothing around him, they played like a Top-10 defense. In Year 2, with more around him, they played like a Top-5 defense the second half of the season.
This year, Mack has the best cast he’s had in the NFL around him, even with all the injuries. Help is on the way now as Mario Edwards Jr. and Aldon Smith should be back soon. He has the defense on the Top-3 level in the last three games without them.
So imagine how this all comes together when everyone is in good health. Carr is playing like an elite QB right now and the running game flexed its muscles Sunday night. Watch out New England Patriots, the Raiders are coming and could give them problems!