The Packers are forcing their way up the field. Raider fans are in disbelief. Matt Flynn actually led an offense past the halfway line – wow! It’s 1st and 10 from the Raiders 39 yard line. One minute left in the half. Flynn drops back, looks left to deceive the defense, then throws a screen. Blockers are ahead – this should be a punishing gain. But rushing from the left defensive end spot, Khalil Mack reads the screen and reacts, throwing a hand up and miraculously snatching the ball and returning it over ten yards, dragging Packers players as he goes.
The Raiders bring Mack to the bench for the rest of the day. Five tackles. Two for a loss. One interception.
Mack’s progression from the first week of the preseason to now is scary. In week one, he put himself in the position to make plays. In week two, he recorded his first sack. But against the Packers, especially on one particular drive, Mack demonstrated his potential for dominance. Lining up against the first team offense on 1st and goal, Mack smacks former first round pick Bryan Bulaga to the ground and tackles Starks behind the line. The next play, the Packers pay attention and Mack is double teamed. The Raiders make a stop on third down, which is nullified by a silly Antonio Smith penalty. But this is what Mack wants. He doesn’t want to get off the field. He wants another opportunity to hurt somebody. So Rodgers hands off to Starks and Mack blows by fifth year tight end Andrew Quarless to drop Starks for a four-yard loss.
Mack can improve in many areas. He missed a couple of tackles on Eddie Lacy, but a lot of players will this year and we all saw how many other Raiders also missed tackles on Lacy. We expect so much from him that we forget he hasn’t even played a down of regular season football yet. Some fans are criticizing Mack’s burst off the line. This isn’t Mack’s style (although he’s capable of winning with speed). Mack is a violent bullrusher – more JJ Watt than Von Miller. Others are claiming Mack is taking too long to react. Mack could become the pass rusher these fans want him to be. He could neglect his commitment to the run and maybe collect a sack every second game. But Mack can be so much more than a quick, skinny, third down pass rusher. Let’s also not forget that even though there were high expectations, he is still a rookie and there is still an expectation that all rookies will improve as their career progresses.
And that’s what makes his potential so scary.