BALTIMORE – Khalil Mack gets chop blocked. A lot.
The Raiders edge rusher felt another one coming his was way, but was undeterred in his pursuit of the quarterback. He absorbed it well, threw his offensive tackle to the outside, turned in and brought Joe Flacco to the ground.
That prompted his signature sack dance, with arms shooting down and high steps going up, with three pumps to the chest as an exclamation point.
We hadn’t seen that this season. Mack went the first three games without a sack. It became a thing over the last week, leaving fans to wonder when the big-time production would kick in. Such is life lived with absurdly high expectations for an All-Pro many consider among the NFL’s best defenders.
“It’s always great to get to the quarterback, whether it’s the first time or the last time,” Mack said after Sunday’s 28-27 victory over the Baltimore Ravens. “It’s cool. They say they come in bunches, so I was ready to go get two or three.”
Mack didn’t do that, but he made a major impact on this game. According to analytics site Pro Football Focus, Mack had a sack, two quarterback hits, five other QB pressures and a few holding calls drawn on those attempting to block him.
The Raiders pass rush was strong as a whole on Sunday. Bruce Irvin had a strip sack -- both Raiders sacks came in the fourth quarter -- the Silver and Black recovered. All told, the Raiders put Flacco under pressure on 26 different occasions despite blitzing on just 13 dropbacks.
“Rush and coverage worked together,” Mack said. “It was clicking early on, and everybody was playing good ball and doing their job. We were getting quarterback hits and holding calls. We were going to get there today.”
That certainly helped in this game, a back-and-forth affair where the defense wasn’t perfect but made plays when it mattered most. The defense held strong during the Ravens push for a game-winning field goal try, which fell just short thanks to a turnover on downs, some crushing hits from the back and pressure up front.
“It’s big for us,” Mack said. “The offense put us on their back and scored. That was huge. Knowing that they did that, we had to step up and do something special. Those six or seven plays were huge for us.”
Having Mack kick started could lead to a run of big plays, making more opportunities for others and is a huge positive for this defense. Mack didn’t put pressure on himself to get that first sack, and maintained focus on his responsibility even when the defense struggled over the first two games.
“You have to count on the guy next to you to do your job,” Mack said. “I was determined to do my job only even though I was frustrated with what I was seeing. … It was one of those things where we sucked it up after taking it on the chin and started playing better.”