Raiders edge rusher Khalil Mack looking for more than just sacks


Raiders edge rusher Khalil Mack looking for more than just sacks

DENVER – Khalil Mack’s goal of getting 30 sacks in a season seems far-fetched. That’s why he didn’t shout it from mountaintops. Quarterback Derek Carr, however, was his megaphone. Carr mentioned the magic number was first brought up in training camp, and 2016’s Defensive Player of the Year didn’t swat it away.

That sum is crazy high, well over Michael Strahan’s record 22.5 in 2001. He’s certainly capable of breaking a 15-year old record, maybe more. Putting limits on the powerful Raiders edge rusher seems foolish after three excellent seasons.

When Mack beats a blocker (or two, or three) and makes a beeline for the quarterback, he isn’t thinking about adding to the tally. He wants the ball.

Not saying sacks are easy, but taking the quarterback down isn’t entirely satisfying. He wants a souvenir.

“You’re always looking for turnovers when you get after the quarterback, but there’s been a particular emphasis for me this year,” Mack told NBC Sports Bay Area Friday. “Sacks are great, but you want to get the ball out.”

Mack has eight forced fumbles his career, with five coming last season. Several came in key moments, including a strip sack of Carolina’s Cam Newton – through a triple team, no less – that iced a Raiders victory.

“The goal is to change the game however you can,” Mack said. “The best way for me to do that is to create turnovers. That’s the objective on every snap.”

That also fits his mantra, to win “by any means.”

Denver knows all too well how Mack can destroy a game. He has eight sacks, four quarterback hits and 16 other pressures in his last four game against the Broncos. He had two sacks and eight pressures in a 2016 home win on Sunday Night Football.

Mack ruined a calm Denver day in 2015 with five sacks, including a strip sack that led to a safety.

He’ll try and do so again Sunday at Sports Authority Field in the Raiders’ AFC West opener.

Mack will face a familiar foe most times. Former Raiders right tackle Menelik Watson is now in Denver, and the pair will square off as they did in so many Napa and Alameda practices. Watson has struggled some to start the season, and will surely get help trying to slow Mack down in a crucial contest for both teams.

“I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to the challenge,” Mack said in a conference call with Denver reporters. “I remember at practice I’d go against him all of the time and he’s one of my favorite players to go against. It’s going to be a big battle.”

There will be a big battle waged while Mack’s on the sideline. Broncos edge rusher Von Miller, someone capable of breaking the NFL single-season sack record or Mack’s white whale of 30.

While the pair used different means to achieve the same end, Mack can help prep Raiders offensive line for a trying day at the office.

“We have a luxury in that department in that we have No. 52 on our team, who gives us a pretty darn good look at that kind of stuff in training camp and OTAs,” offensive coordinator Todd Downing said. “Really talented guys that give us looks on the show team and such as well. We feel like we have a good plan. We excited to go out and execute it.”

Mack and Miller are not carbon copies.

“Von has a hell of a get off and he can bend that corner like nobody else in the league,” Mack said. “Kudos to him for that. I’m more of a physical guy in that approach. Not taking that away from him, but that’s what I view as the most (different).”

No elite pass rusher is exactly the same, which is why Miller hosted a pass-rush summit at Stanford this offseason. Miller, former Bronco DeMarcus Ware and Mack ended up being teachers, not students, even with other top edge guys like Olivier Vernon and Vic Beasley in attendance. Mack does things, however, that can’t be copied.

“Some of the stuff he was doing, just can’t be done by others,” Miller said. “Just plain and simple. Just pick up offensive linemen and just run straight through them, that stuff just, it can be done but not the way that Khalil does it.”

Neither can Miller’s speed and bendability.

They’re different, but Mack has still learned a lot by watching Miller.

“Just watching him on film these past few years has taught me a lot about rushing the pass,” Mack said. “Just looking at him get off and looking at things that he looks at and learning. This past summer with him and DeMarcus Ware and all of those other guys that were out there, it helped with my assets as a pass rusher.”

Raiders shut down LB Cory James, pull from practice squad


Raiders shut down LB Cory James, pull from practice squad

ALAMEDA – Raiders weakside linebacker Cory James has battled knee injuries all year. That dates back to the preseason, when he had arthroscopic surgery. He started the first six games before knee issues crept back up. He missed a Week 7 win over Kansas City and the last two games.

The Raiders decided to shut him down Wednesday and let his knee heal. James was placed on season-ending injured reserve, the team announced.

Darius Latham was promoted from the practice squad in a corresponding move. Defensive end Joby Saint Fleur was took Latham’s place on the practice squad.

James has developed into a steady starter. Last year’s sixth-round pick played most every linebacker spot at Colorado State, but the Raiders focused him on the weak side. He had 67 tackles, two passes defensed and a forced fumble in 10 games this season.

James took 15 snaps in a Week 12 win over Denver, but hasn’t played since. A knee that might need another surgical repair couldn’t get him through the year.

Undrafted rookie Nicholas Morrow will continue taking James’ snaps. He has been a near-permanent fixture in the lineup the past two games. He has 12 tackles in that span, and allowed two receptions for 14 yards on three targets Sunday against Kansas City.

James is firmly in the team’s future plans, one set spot on a defense that could see significant turnover this offseason. The Raiders have to restock that unit, which could have 4-6 new starters next season.

What's happened to the Raiders passing game?


What's happened to the Raiders passing game?

ALAMEDA – Jack Del Rio didn’t update the status of Amari Cooper’s ailing ankle. It was in bad shape last week, made worse by playing in Sunday’s 26-15 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Cooper rolled it again on his 15th offensive snap, when he was blocking for a run. Cooper was one of three receivers in a bunch formation left of the offensive line. Cooper and Michael Crabtree got out front of the play, and linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis landed on Cooper’s lower leg while tackling rusher DeAndre Washington. Cooper let out a scream picked up by television cameras, after his ankle got hurt again.

“It was a toss, a crack toss. He was involved in it,” Del Rio said in his Monday press conference. “He had an assignment to block. It’s football. He was involved in a play.”

That play ended Cooper’s day, and put him back on the shelf. He was there for nearly two weeks before, after being concussed and suffering an ankle sprain in a violent collision against Denver.

Cooper was expected to miss the Chiefs game, but pressed to practice Friday and play a pivotal AFC West showdown in Kansas City. He got his wish. The Raiders didn’t get much in return.

He was targeted once and didn’t have a catch before aggravating an injury that may keep him out of future must-win games. Time will tell in that regard.

One certainty: The Raiders need more from their receiver corps. Quarterback and offensive line also contribute in the passing game, but this group struggled to separate and dropped three passes against Kansas City. STATS, Inc. has the Raiders third worst with 24 dropped passes this season.

The Raiders needed Crabtree especially with Cooper out. He had seven catches for 60 yards in 13 targets.

The passing game isn’t in great sync, a surprising turn for a group that features a Pro Bowl quarterback and two 1,000-yard receivers from a year ago.

“I don’t like to sit up here and grade positions, so I’m not going to today,” Del Rio said. “I thought they competed hard and we played a lot of guys. Obviously without both of our guys in Cooper and Crabtree, we didn’t have Coop very long. We filled in and battled. We’d like to get more production there.”