Editor’s note: This is the second part in a series that spotlights three Raiders-Seahawks matchups to watch Sunday, 1:25 p.m., at CenturyLink Field.
Raiders OLB Khalil Mack vs. Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch
Tale of the tape:
Mack (52): 6-foot-3, 252 pounds, rookie season, Buffalo
Lynch (24): 5-foot-11, 215 pounds, eighth season, California-Berkeley
Khalil Mack has as many tackles for losses as JJ Watt. As many as Vonn Miller, too.
Mack doesn’t have a sack, so 10 drive-changing hits have come against running backs. Mack has quickly evolved into one of the NFL’s best run defenders, using a combination of power and agility to stop a play in its infancy.
His dominance has been lauded by the Raiders and their opponents in recent weeks, which has coincided with an uptick in the Raiders’ run defense.
“He’s improved so quickly, but that’s what we liked about this young man,” defensive coordinator Jason Tarver said. “We could see his learning process. He doesn’t like being wrong. He learns. So, in the run game, it’s getting harder and harder to trick him. Sometimes edge players come in and they’re exceptional. They’re just super quick or they’ve got the longest arms ever and they just swim guys, or they use their natural ability. He’s using his ability and also, he’s learning, so, we like where he’s headed.”
Mack and the Raiders are on a collision course with the NFL’s toughest runner. Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch, a Cal alum and Oakland native, runs with a physicality rarely matched in the NFL, someone hard to take down alone. Mack will be an important part of a run defense that must slow Lynch to stand a chance against Seattle.
That’s no easy task, and the Raiders know it.
“He’s a physical, tough, reckless runner,” interim head coach Tony Sparano said. “If you don’t tackle him, and you don’t get both arms around him and wrap-tackle him and those sorts of things, he’s going to make yards after contact. He’s going to end up making some big plays, so there are some definitely challenges there.
“We have to get a lot of people to the football when it comes to him. That’s risk-reward, too. As you’re flying to the football, (Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson) can pull the football and run around the end, and then you have an issue there. You have to be disciplined. When you have chances to make tackles on him, you’re going to have to get him to the ground.”
Mack has a knack for doing that, which has given the Raiders cause to be excited about a No. 5 overall pick who is living up to expectation.
“In the run and the pass game, he’s just continued to work and he just needs to stay on this progression,” Tarver said. “If he stays on this progression, the sky is the limit.”