Khalil Mack 'a monster' on a roll heading into pivotal Broncos clash

Khalil Mack 'a monster' on a roll heading into pivotal Broncos clash

Khalil Mack is plugged into the present and immediate future, with no interest in strolls down memory lane. It isn’t just 0-10 the Raiders edge rusher wants to remain dead and buried. Mack doesn’t care to rehash glory days either.

He hasn’t forgotten the last time he played Denver, when he took over the Mile High City with five sacks, nine total pressures and a forced fumble in the end zone that resulted in a safety. He just isn’t interested going back there before Sunday night’s AFC West clash with Denver at Oakland Coliseum.

That, he says, has nothing to do with this.

“It’s a different team with different personnel,” Mack said. “They have some tackles in there now and a new quarterback. It’s a new challenge, a new focus for us.”

The challenge is daunting. The Raiders will face the defending Super Bowl champs on national television in a game where the country wants to see how the Raiders react under the spotlight.

While the Broncos are good, especially on defense, this clash of 6-2 teams isn’t a mismatch. Both teams have weapons.

The Raiders' best defensive player enters Sunday’s game on a high. Mack has four sacks in his last three games, a statistical surge that doesn’t accurately depict how good he has been all season.

“You guys don’t get to see the film we see,” fellow Raiders edge rusher Bruce Irvin said. “The guy is a monster every week and he has to be accounted for. He has a sack in three straight games, and it’s about that time of year where he’s about to get it rolling. It’s really exciting to see.”

Last year’s game at Denver is widely recognized as Mack’s finest in two-and-a-half seasons. A stat line that influential in a victory is easily placed in the top spot.

Mack’s showing in last week’s overtime victory at Tampa Bay might be No. 2. He was awesome against the Buccaneers, using a variety of pass-rush moves to dominate up front and total two sacks, nine other pressures, seven total tackles and excellent run defense.

Mack is never one to pat himself on the back. He gave credit to the Raiders secondary for providing time to properly disrupt the quarterback. Defensive backs know covering well in the back can create game-changing havoc up front, and take pride in seeing sack totals go up.

“We’re out there and trying to cover for five or six seconds, but Khalil can get there in three,” cornerback DJ Hayden said. “We just have to cover long enough to let the pass rush do its thing.”

Mack does lots of things well. He is well known for brute strength, converting speed to power, and quick reaction and pursuit in the backfield, but it isn’t pure athleticism allowing him to beat chips and double teams and quality tackles one-on-one.

He is using diverse pass-rush moves to get home, something that was crystal clear watching his work in Tampa Bay. He owned the opposition, which never seemed comfortable identifying what Mack would do next.

That comes through Mack working his man and knowing what he’s vulnerable to and when’s the best time to take a new club out of his bag.

“You can sense it throughout a game,” Mack said. “You can sense when a guy is fatigued and could be susceptible to a certain move, or when he isn’t expecting a certain move. You can read a guy’s actions and see when he’s anticipating something. That’s when you do something else.

“It’s definitely about making reads within the matchup. We’re playing chess, not checkers, out there.”

That’s why he was so dominant last season, to the tune of 15 sacks and All-Pro honors at two different positions. That performance created insane statistical expectations that weren’t met early in the year. Mack did have a sack in the first three games and had one through five weeks.

The Raiders knew numbers were coming. It was clear on film.

“His ability to smash blocks, get off blocks, get around the quarterback, knock the quarterback down, just the effectiveness of his play, (showed how well he was doing),” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said. “Sometimes the numbers add up and you see the production, but we see the effort and the desire and the commitment that he gives every day.”

The Broncos know firsthand that Mack can take over a football game, and are certainly wary of that.

“You certainly have to be aware of where he’s at,” Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian said. “He’s an outstanding player and he does a lot of good things for them and Irvin on the other edge is pretty good, too. We’ll have our hands full, but we want to be aware of No. 52 at all times, I’ll say that.”

Quarterback drafted by Jon Gruden in 2008 signs with Raiders


Quarterback drafted by Jon Gruden in 2008 signs with Raiders

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden had a hand in drafting Josh Johnson a decade ago. The agile quarterback and Oakland native was a Tampa Bay’s fifth-round pick in 2008, Gruden’s last year as Buccaneers coach.

The pair will reunite in Johnson’s hometown. The well-traveled quarterback signed with the Raiders on Monday, the team announced.

Johnson will compete with Connor Cook to backup starter Derek Carr, and brings a veteran’s influence to the position group. It likely spells the end of EJ Manuel’s short tenure in silver and black. The strong-armed former first-round pick, who started one game last season, remains a free agent after a year with the Raiders.

This move should make Marshawn Lynch happy. He and Johnson are extremely close and together run the Family First Foundation, a charitable organization that does significant work for East Bay kids. Johnson and Lynch also played football together at Oakland Tech High.

Johnson has played 10 NFL teams prior to this Raiders stop, but hasn’t played in a regular-season game for some time.

Raiders well equipped to 'slam the ball with a beast'


Raiders well equipped to 'slam the ball with a beast'

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden needed specific tools to run his running game. He wanted blocking tight ends and a bruising fullback, relics of a bygone offensive era.

“If Marshawn Lynch is the feature back, I think it’d be nice if we serviced him with a fullback,” Gruden said at the combine. … You need a blocking tight end if you’re going to slam the ball with a beast. So, those are two things that I’m looking for.”

Gruden said he wanted to import some old-school elements to help run with brute force.

Enter free-agent fullback Kyle Smith and tight end Derek Carrier. Welcome back, Lee Smith.

Then, on Sunday, Raiders made another vital move in this old school effort. They cut Marshawn Lynch a $1 million check.

The Oakland native’s roster bonus came due and the Raiders had no problem paying it, the clearest sign Lynch will be the Raiders feature back in 2018.

He’ll have a great chance to thrive in that role. The Raiders have a hulking, expensive offensive line (that still needs a right tackle). They have new ancillary blocking elements, and the centerpiece remains in place.

That last part was expected in recent weeks. The coaching staff, offensive line coach Tom Cable especially, wanted Lynch back. NFL Network confirmed those facts, stating Lynch will be around in 2018.

That was the case, even with Doug Martin’s addition. The former Tampa Bay back is expected to be a backup bruiser, someone who might put DeAndre Washington or (less likely) Jalen Richard’s job in jeopardy.

The Raiders can cut Lynch without a cap hit. Lynch is scheduled to make $6 million in salary and bonuses, with another $2 million available in incentives. The Raiders should hope to pay those; it would mean Lynch is running well.

The Raiders have given him a great opportunity to do so. They have solid blocking and a coach in Cable who helped him succeed during dominant days in Seattle.

Lynch proved he’s still got it in 2017’s second half, with 70 percent of his 891 rushing yards in the final eight games. He struggled early on, and upset some fans by helping the opposition during a scuffle with Kansas City. That mitigated a PR bump the Raiders looked for when signing a popular Oakland native just months after committing to Las Vegas long-term.

Jack Del Rio and staff grew tired of what they perceived as leeway given to Lynch unavailable to others, and probably wouldn’t have kept him on if still gainfully employed.

Gruden seems committed to Lynch this season, though nothing is ever 100 percent with an enigmatic rusher who doesn’t make private thoughts public.

His elusive, rough-and-tumble rushing style fits well with what Gruden wants, though he demands commitment to the team and sport. Sports Illustrated relayed a story of Gruden saying he needed a “full-time Lynch.”

If he gets that, the Raiders run game should thrive.