The Raiders’ reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year had perhaps his best game of the season Sunday in Oakland’s 24-17 victory over the New York Giants.
In fact, it feels as if defensive end Khalil Mack is just now starting to get his season rolling into high gear over the past three games.
In the win over the Giants, Mack had a sack of quarterback Geno Smith in which he pulled the ball away for a turnover in the red zone, a play that proved crucial in the victory. He also had sacks in the two previous games against the Broncos and Patriots.
Raiders linebacker NaVorro Bowman said Mack’s strip sack of Smith was an enormous play, with New York having marched to the Oakland 4 yard line.
“That’s just the motor,” Bowman said of Mack, according to Curtis Pashelka of the Bay Area News Group. “If you go back to the beginning of that play and you see the get-off, that’s really what got him there so fast and Geno didn’t expect him to get there that fast. I saw the ball loose, and it was him being instinctual. ... Grabbing that ball was a huge play for us.”
Over the past two games, new defensive coordinator John Pagano has been using Mack a bit differently, moving him around the defensive front to create new matchups and pressures on blocking schemes. The analytic website Pro Football Focus noted that Mack’s performance Sunday was one of the most dominant defensive efforts in the entire league, calling him “unblockable.” PFF noted Mack had 11 pressures and a sack in 30 pass-rush snaps. He had a hit and nine hurries among those pressures. He was the top-graded Raider by PFF. “Just another ultra-productive performance from Mack,” wrote PFF.
Mack doesn’t have gaudy sack stats this season. He has 7½ sacks, far behind NFL leader DeMarcus Lawrence of the Cowboys, who has 13½. But he’s a force in both the running and passing games and perhaps the NFL’s best edge defender.
After being sacked Sunday by Mack and linebacker Bruce Irvin (who also forced a fumble), the Giants’ Smith tipped his hat to them.
“Two of the best in the game, two of the best pass rushers,” Smith told reporters. “They really got after it today. Khalil made two good plays on me. I wish I could have those back.”
The Raiders, now in a three-way tie atop the AFC West at 6-6, travel to Kansas City Sunday to take on the 6-6 Chiefs. Kickoff is set for 10 a.m. in the Bay Area.