Raiders defensive lineman Khalil Mack was amazing last season. In just his second year in the league, he became a certified game wrecker and his sacks jumped all the way up to 15 from four his rookie season. He played so well that he was named an All-Pro at two different positions -- defensive end and outside linebacker -- something that was unprecedented in the history of the NFL.
Now just take a few moment and think about all the great players who have ever played in the league ...
Thing is, once a guy puts up those kinds of numbers and garners those kinds of accolades, the expectations for him tend to become sky high as well. While I was as impressed as anybody with Mack's play last year, I still worried that people were building him up to impossible heights headed into this season. My fear was that some people were building him up to be King Kong just so they could knock him down if he didn't live up to those expectations.
Yeah, he had 15 sacks last season, but five of them came in one game. That kind of game is rare for anybody. In the history of the NFL, only 14 players have ever had five or more sacks in one game and only one -- one -- has ever repeated the feat (rest in peace, Derrick Thomas).
If you exclude that game, Mack would have had 10 sacks in 15 games last season. That still would've been impressive as hell, but not quite voted-All-Pro-at-two-positions impressive. I definitely don't think 10 sacks last season would've had anybody predicting 20 or more sacks this year for Mack, a prediction I saw a few times this offseason.
Of course, you can't and shouldn't totally ignore the five-sack game, because it definitely happened. Hell, Mack worked his ass off for every single one of those sacks as I detailed in my column naming him Hoss for that performance back in December. At the same time, it's OK to be realistic and acknowledge that it will be difficult for him to have that kind of game this season, or ever again, if history holds.
There is nothing "wrong" with Mack if he doesn't get to 20 sacks.
Very few players ever do, even the great ones. I am betting that the Raiders will be thrilled if he can just get double-digit sacks consistently for the next 7-10 years even if he never gets to 20.
Folks started wondering what was "wrong" with Mack after he had just one sack in the first five games of this season. If you watched the film, you knew that Mack was still getting his share of pressure on the quarterback, the sacks just weren't coming. But that's the nature of sacks. They tend to come in bunches.
Well, after notching two sacks in a win over the Buccaneers a week ago, Mack upped his season total to five sacks in his first eight games. Watching the film, I got the impression that bunches were on the horizon. It didn't hurt that his big five-sack game last season just so happened to be against the Broncos, whom he was facing again Sunday evening. While much about the Broncos has changed since Week 14 last season (you might've heard, for instance, that they had a quarterback change), the challenge remained the same: Get enough pressure on the quarterback to affect the outcome of the game.
To add to the drama, both teams came into the game with just two losses and tied atop the AFC West. A win would give either team a decided leg up on winning the AFC West.
Such were the stakes in the middle of the fourth quarter when the Broncos found themselves down 23-13 but clinging to a glimmer of hope with the ball almost at midfield. If they had scored on that drive, whether a field goal or a touchdown, then they would have had a legit chance to make a push to either tie or win the game at the end.
On the flip side, Mack had to be feeling like if he and his teammates could just get a big stop, then the game was likely over. All they had to do was find a way to make a play and the Raiders would be sitting all alone atop the AFC West for the first time in what seems like forever.
It was second-and-10 and Mack, who already had one sack on the night, executed a beautiful out-in-out move on Broncos right tackle Donald Stephenson. First, Mack took a couple of steps up field to get Stephenson to bail out of his assignment to try to block Mack's speed rush. Then Mack took a step inside with his inside foot to make Stephenson think he was trying to come inside of him. Stephenson fell for the feint badly, which makes sense considering that Mack's earlier sack came when he beat Stephenson with an inside move.
Stephenson stopped his feet just enough so that when Mack side stepped back outside with his outside foot, Stephenson was royally screwed. Stephenson was so off balance that it looked like he was wearing cement shoes and all he could do was reach out helplessly as Mack scooted right past his outstretched arms.
Mack finished with a swim move to keep Stephenson from getting his hands on him and then turned the corner tight so he could get to the quarterback in a hurry. Rather than being content with just getting the sack, however, Mack chopped at Trevor Siemian's hand to knock the ball loose. Not only did Mack cause the fumble, he recovered it as well.
That pretty much shut the door on any chance Denver had to come back in that game.
Mack, of course, made other plays Sunday night. He got his hands up at the line of scrimmage to knock down a Siemian pass late in the first quarter, and he had a nice tackle on Siemian for a 2-yard gain when Denver was backed up in the third quarter.
And of course there was the other sack, when he took down Siemian late in the third quarter. Mack even got pressure on the interception Siemian threw on the Broncos' last offensive play of the game.
No play was bigger then that sack and forced fumble in the fourth quarter, however. That's the kind of play you want and expect a guy like Mack to make.
In a big game against a division rival for control of the division, Mack found a way to come up huge in the fourth quarter. With the win still in doubt and the opposition driving, he shut down all that shit in short order with that play. And don't look now, but after his "slow" start, the guy is right back knocking on the door of double-digit sacks again. He may not be King Kong, but he will still kick your ass and that's why Khalil Mack is my Hoss of the Week for Week 9.