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.”