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.”