Quietly, Raiders’ Mack is Becoming a Difference-Maker

Oakland's rookie outside linebacker has another solid game in loss to Cleveland

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Seven games into his rookie season, Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack is still looking for his first sack.

But that doesn’t mean Mack is a flop. Far from it.

In Sunday’s 23-13 loss to the Browns in Cleveland, the fifth overall pick of the 2014 draft was outstanding. The outside linebacker had six tackles, including two for loss, and several times put pressure on Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer. He also had a quarterback hit.

The play of Mack and second-year outside linebacker Sio Moore were major reasons why the Oakland defense shut down the Browns’ solid rushing attack. Cleveland ran the ball 25 times Sunday, yet gained just 25 yards – a 1.9 yards per carry average.

“He gained the respect of everybody on our team,” Hoyer told reporters after the game. “That guy is one of the best players we’ve gone against this year, and that’s unanimous in our locker room.”

Going into Sunday’s game, in fact, the Browns already were quite impressed by the rookie from Buffalo.

After watching him on film in preparation for Oakland, Browns coach Mike Pettine said Mack’s game has translated very well from Buffalo to the NFL.

“It’s translated and then some,” he told the Akron Beacon Journal. “I think we all knew that he would be a handful as a pass rusher, but where he’s been impressive is his physicality on the line of scrimmage against tight ends.”

And, though he didn’t have a sack against Hoyer or any in his first six games, he’s been close a number of times. Raiders head coach Tony Sparano says the sacks will come, because he’s already shown he’s capable. According to Pro Football Focus, Mack had 16 quarterback hurries and hits combined before the Browns game.

The main thing, says Sparano, is Mack is an intelligent and hard-working player who’s constantly making progress.

“This guy’s motor goes all the time,” Sparano said.

But the biggest impact he’s made is against the run. Mack plays his responsibilities and makes the right reads. Pro Football Focus ranks him the top run-stopping linebacker in the league.

Against the Browns, Mack and defensive end Benson Mayowa were strong against the running game up front, allowing the Oakland defense to perform much better on third downs. Cleveland converted just 2-of-12.

Said Raiders veteran defensive end Justin Tuck, to the San Francisco Chronicle: “We did a great job of limiting their run game. Benson and Khalil, up front, and it created some favorable third-down situations.”

Now at 0-7, Mack and the Raiders will face one of their toughest tests of the year this coming Sunday, taking on the Super Bowl-champion Seahawks in Seattle.

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