Khalil Mack is the currently Raiders’ best defensive player, possibly their greatest talent regardless of position. Whole world knows that.
The dynamic edge rusher moves around the formation, with an ability to cover in addition to regular tasks stopping the run and pressuring quarterbacks. That’s nothing new.
Now he’s playing without Aldon Smith on the other side. And, surprisingly, Mack has turned in two excellent games since Smith was suspended a calendar year for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
“Even if Aldon was still here, I think Khalil would be playing the same way,” nose tackle Dan Williams said. “I think it’s about about Khalil being himself and going 110 miles per hour on every play. He’s always been good, but you see him getting there more often.”
That was clear on Sunday afternoon. He had two sacks in a 24-21 victory over the Tennessee Titans, two other quarterback pressures and two run stops near the line of scrimmage. That's the type of game this coaching staff demands, with plays that alter the course of a game.
The effort was encore to a game in Detroit where he had eight tackles (six were run stops near the line) and five quarterback pressures.
He did all that despite being a focal point for opposing offenses, which he’ll be next week during a critical home game against Kansas City.
“It’s not something I think about,” Mack said. “Whether they double team you or chip you with a tight end, you have to fight through it and get the job done.”
Mack dealt with hip issues roughly a month ago, but seems physically healthy and dominant as a power rusher and an elusive man to block.
Turn on the tape and you’ll see Mack bully an offensive lineman one moment and spinning around one the next. You’ll see him plug gaps and then attack when a rusher mistakenly heads in his direction.
That was certainly true in Tennessee.
“I think he’s a really good football player, plays extremely hard,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said. “He was really a positive factor for us yesterday, whether it was disrupting the run, tackles in the backfield, stacking blocks or disrupting or sacking the quarterback, I thought he was really on top of his game yesterday.”
Mack isn’t one to talk about himself. He views contributions through the context of overall game performance. Winning seems paramount to individual performance.
“It’s a team effort; it’s not all about me or any one person,” Mack said Friday. “We all have to play together to get the job done. That’s well understood around here. It’s about everyone doing their job.”
The Raiders need Mack’s production now. Mack’s two-sack performance brought his tally to seven. He’s on the way to double-digit sacks, and already has 13 tackles for losses. He seems to be getting better as the season wears on.
“Each week he’s been getting better,” Williams said. “He’s one of the guys who, in my opinion, still hasn’t tapped into all of his potential. I’m definitely glad he’s playing so well and continuing to improve. He’s a great player, and has continued to show it.”
That’s a positive, considering the Raiders are playing without Smith and the injured Justin Tuck up front. The linebacker corps has struggled outside Malcolm Smith. He needs to dominate down the stretch, when the Raiders must get on a run to stay in the playoff hunt.
“I think (defensive line coach) Jethro Franklin has done a great job with the group of really not spending a lot of time worrying about what you don’t have or what isn’t there,” Del Rio said. “It’s more about focusing on what we need to get done to be good as a group together.”