All eyes on Khalil Mack, one of NFL’s elite defenders

All eyes on Khalil Mack, one of NFL’s elite defenders

ALAMEDA – The Carolina Panthers were in some trouble, down three points and facing a 4th-down-and-10 just beyond field goal range.

Most eyes were on Cam Newton, waiting to see if the reigning MVP would do or die.

Not Raiders receiver Amari Cooper.

“I was watching Khalil (Mack), I wanted to see what he was going to do on potentially the last play of the game,” Cooper said. “This guy is unusually talented and he made a play.”

Did he ever. The Raiders edge rusher had three Panthers assigned to him. None could stop this force. He pushed the tackle back, got a running back to go outside and cut in before a guard could slow him down. Mack infiltrated the pocket and brought his right arm down like a guillotine.

It knocked Newton down and set the ball free, which he pounced on to secure a 35-32 victory.

“You want to change the game by any means,” Mack said after the game. “Knowing it’s fourth down and they’re going for it and it’s late in the game and they could possibly tie it up, you want to make that play to get the ball and end it.”

Mack ended that game, but it wasn’t his only highlight. In addition to the sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery on that play, Mack also had an interception that he returned for a touchdown.

He was the first defender to record all five feats in the same game since Charles Woodson did so in 2009. That’s fitting considering how Woodson helped groom him into the leader and impact player he is today.

While there are a few defenders – Von Miller, for one, as 12.5 sacks -- with big-time numbers, Mack may have the best of them all.

Consider this stat line: 51 tackles, nine sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, three passes defensed and an interception returned for a touchdown. According to analytics site Pro Football Focus, Mack leads all edge rushers with 60 total quarterback pressures.

Mack is dominant in all facets, and should be strongly considered to be the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. There are five games remaining to argue individual merits, though Mack won’t play a part in it.

He isn’t a numbers guy. Except, of course, for win totals.

“No doubt. No doubt. By any means. By any means necessary,” Mack said repeating a mantra that has become his trademark. “That’s the message every week. Whether we have to pull them out in the fourth (quarter) or overtime... we need those wins. That’s the message.”

There is a number that gets lost in all the sea on impact stats. Mack plays 90.1 percent of Raiders defensive snaps. On Sunday against Carolina, he played every single one.

By contrast, Miller plays 80 percent of Denver’s count.

Mack is an excellent run defender and is needed as a three-down player coming off the edge.

The Raiders need Bruce Irvin to do the same. He rarely leaves the field, spends more time in coverage and, like Mack, played every defensive snap against the Panthers.

He has had some special moments off the opposite edge, with 37 tackles, four sacks, 33 other pressures, and has tied an NFL best with four forced fumbles. He had a late sack the week before against Houston to ice victory over the Texans.

Getting contributions off both edges has been key during this 9-2 season, especially during this current five game winning streak. Irvin is happy to be working well with Mack, whom he considers a truly elite talent.

“The guy is one hell of a player,” Irvin said. “We feed off each other. On that last drive we told each other ‘It’s on us, it’s on us to put the team on our back and end it.’ That’s exactly what we did. I’m just blessed to be in such a great situation playing with a future Hall of Famer.”

Aldon Smith back in custody after police say he violated restraining order


Aldon Smith back in custody after police say he violated restraining order

SAN FRANCISCO — Former Oakland Raiders player Aldon Smith surrendered to police Friday on charges he violated a domestic violence restraining order.

San Francisco police said the 28-year-old Smith turned himself and was booked on three misdemeanor charges of violating a court order to stay away from a domestic violence victim.

Earlier this month, Smith pleaded not guilty to domestic violence and other charges and a judge issued a protective order prohibiting him from contacting the victim.

Police said Smith violated the restraining order earlier this week.

Smith’s attorney, Joshua Bentley, did not return a voicemail message from The Associated Press seeking comment.

The Raiders released the linebacker days after his arrest on the domestic violence charges.

He had been on the suspended list since late 2015 for violating the NFL’s policy on substance abuse.

Raiders retain E.J. Manuel, now have four QBs on the roster


Raiders retain E.J. Manuel, now have four QBs on the roster

The Raiders have a lot of quarterbacks under contract, certainly more than they’ll have come September.

That means the battle to be Derek Carr’s backup should be fierce. EJ Manuel had that title last year, with a shot to retain it after re-signing with the club on Thursday afternoon.

Veteran Josh Johnson signed up Monday, and those two will join third-year man Connor Cook behind Carr on the depth chart.

New head coach Jon Gruden loved Cook coming out of the draft, but the Michigan State alum failed to earn the backup job last season and must make a move up the depth chart to kickstart his career.

Manuel has a strong arm and starting experience, making him a steady and solid backup option. He completed 24-of-43 passes for 265 yards, a touchdown and an interception in two games when Carr was hurt.

Johnson might be a camp arm at this point, though he’ll be given a chance to compete this spring and summer.

Carr has been hurt for at least a small stretch in each of the last two seasons. Having Manuel in that spot might offer stability.

Gruden addressed last year’s backup quarterbacks last month at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Gruden on Manuel: “I think EJ is a young, talented guy,” Gruden said. “He’s been in the facility working out on his own every day. There is a bright upside to him, too, as a young quarterback to keep working with. He’s a free agent, but the Philadelphia Eagles proved that’s a pretty damn important position, isn’t it? Right? So we have to address that and see where we are.”

Gruden on Cook: “I am kind of surprised Connor hasn’t played in two years, other than the playoff game he got in as a rookie. After Derek got hurt last year, they turned the ball to EJ. I don’t know where Connor Cook is. I am frustrated right now that I can’t spend any time with him, but, April 9th (when the Raiders offeseason program starts) will be an exciting day for me and Connor Cook.”