Mack played one of the best games you’ll ever see an NFL edge player have
Despite their victory over the AFC-leading Denver Broncos on Sunday, the Las Vegas Raiders remain a mathematical longshot for NFL playoffs contention.
Nevertheless, the Raiders managed to defy the conventions of a so-called “passing league” by exhibiting a remarkable defensive prowess, disrupting the prevailing AFC playoff narratives.
Following an unexpected sequence of events in Week 14 of NFL action, the New England Patriots reclaimed their position at the top by triumphing over the Houston Texans.
Meanwhile, the Broncos slid to the third rank, and the Bengals, who experienced both a defeat and the loss of quarterback Andy Dalton to the Steelers (as detailed below), find themselves in the second slot.
At Football By Football, we consistently emphasize the collective nature of victories, shedding light on the intricate teamwork that underpins successful outcomes on the football field.
Nonetheless, it’s only fair to acknowledge the exceptional individual performance put forth by Raiders DE Khalil Mack on Sunday—a display of dominance that stands out as one of the most remarkable in recent NFL memory.
In a rare and disruptive feat, Mack’s impact was so substantial that he single-handedly reshaped the playoff standings—an achievement typically associated with those who orchestrate the passing game.
It’s undeniably worth noting that Mack tallied an astonishing five sacks in this exceptional display.
While the number “five” certainly carries weight in terms of this metric, it’s essential to recognize that the sack statistic can sometimes paint a misleading picture in football.
There are instances where a pass rusher receives credit for a sack despite a less-than-stellar rush, as the quarterback is hurried out of the pocket due to the exceptional rush of another player. Opportunistic, one might say.
However, this wasn’t a situation of that sort. Khalil Mack’s performance on Sunday transcended the conventional confines of the sack statistic.
His impact was likely even more significant than what the sack tally might suggest.
Indeed, characterizing Mack’s performance against the Broncos with a mere “5 sacks” would be a disservice, as these five astounding sacks were accrued in the second half alone.
The absence of sacks in the initial half of the game can be attributed to Mack’s role evolution, which saw him adopting more of a stand-up linebacker position, dedicating a considerable portion of his time to coverage duties.
This dynamic exemplifies how conventional labels often fall short of encapsulating a player’s true range of abilities.
Khalil Mack defies the mold of a conventional 290-pound defensive end, akin to the likes of Mario Williams or Julius Peppers.
Standing at 6’3″ and weighing 250 pounds, his physique aligns more with that of a linebacker rather than a traditional NFL defensive end.
As someone who shared a similar build during my time on the field, I hold an acute appreciation for the remarkable feat Mack achieved by overpowering not only the tight ends but also both offensive tackles of the Broncos.
His performance underscores the transcendent impact an athlete can have, irrespective of prescribed categories.
The aftermath of the weekend is a dramatically different scene on the AFC side of the ledger. And no player in the NFL is more responsible for that than Khalil Mack.
He unquestionably left the opposition red-faced with his performance—an observation that becomes evident when observing a spotlight on Mack’s plays in the second half of that game. This snapshot almost resembles a highlight reel one might expect from a high school standout, rather than scenes from a professional NFL clash.
Upon delving into the game tape, what stood out as a true source of appreciation was the multifaceted nature of Mack’s performance.
Unlike a monotonous repetition that often characterizes a single player’s unstoppable move, Mack’s impact spanned a spectrum of skill sets. At various junctures, his dominance extended seamlessly to both the run game and pass rush.
Moreover, his mastery as a pass rusher was showcased through an impressively diverse repertoire of techniques and strategies—a true testament to the depth of his skill set and football IQ.
It would be far too long of a column to run through all that Mack did well in this game, but let’s focus on some of the highest notes…
The pivotal responsibility of setting the edge while simultaneously exerting pressure stands as a paramount task for NFL defensive ends and outside linebackers. This role extends beyond mere physical prowess, encompassing elements of keen awareness and strategic acumen.
Amidst the nuanced orchestration of plays in the game on Sunday, one particular sequence drew considerable attention—the massive edge-setting maneuver executed by Mack.
Upon closer analysis, the true brilliance of the play emerges in Mack’s ability to manipulate his alignment, thus influencing the ensuing blocking scheme against a bunch formation.
The subtlety of this adjustment profoundly impacts the flow of the play.
Specifically, Mack’s initial alignment head up to the bunch formation would likely have placed him in the sights of the point man, the first line of defense against him.
However, Mack’s astute shift to the outside just before the snap alters the point man’s focus on the next man within the formation.
This strategic shift allows Mack to zero in on the smaller inside wide receiver, a more manageable target to push into the backfield.
It also affords him an advantageous angle if confronted with an attempted crack block from the outside.
Mack’s domination of the smaller blocker and his adept interception of the pulling offensive guard effectively disrupt the play at its inception.
While it may seem less extraordinary to overpower a smaller adversary—an achievement within the reach of many defensive ends—the true brilliance lies in Mack’s impeccable timing, his capacity to artfully disguise his intentions, and his rapid reaction as the ball is snapped.
This calculated sequence creates an insurmountable conundrum for the Denver offense.
Though this instance doesn’t culminate in a sack and isn’t defined by sheer physical prowess, it stands out as one of the more impressive feats Mack accomplished on that particular day.
His mastery extends beyond conventional statistics, showcasing his prowess in manipulating the strategic chessboard of the game.
Employing the ploy of baiting tight ends in the run game by presenting your chest and then swiftly retracting it at the eleventh hour is a strategic maneuver frequently employed by outside linebackers against overly aggressive blockers.
This tactic capitalizes on catching tight ends off balance, but the true litmus test lies in the linebacker’s ability to backtrack and reclaim their run lane before the running back seizes the opportunity.
However, executing the ‘olé’ maneuver without creating an excessive gap that jeopardizes the run gap is a common pitfall. It’s a victory tainted by a certain kind of defeat—you’ve technically won, but not really.
In the game’s point of attack, Mack faces a run play directed squarely at him.
Executing the technique flawlessly is impressive in its own right, but the true highlight is his rapid retraction and prompt return to his original position along the line of scrimmage.
This dynamic showcases his remarkable agility and speed (as illustrated below).
This instance brilliantly underscores how Mack’s contributions to the run defense were equally as noteworthy as his formidable pass-rushing skills.
Throughout the course of the game, he established himself as a formidable threat to pass protection, rendering himself an arduous challenge for the opposition.
Notably, his prowess extends beyond the realm of the passing game—his ability to deter runs in his direction, and even those veering toward the inside, underscores his capacity to cover the ground with exceptional alacrity in confined spaces.
It’s a testament to his versatility and impact, making his presence felt on nearly every snap.
Undoubtedly, this play stands as the most straightforward and evident highlight, serving as the catalyst for numerous other remarkable feats Mack achieved throughout the game.
This play functions as a prelude, setting the stage for the various layers of Mack’s impact.
Mack’s exceptional burst off the line and his remarkable coverage of substantial ground within his initial three strides become glaringly apparent.
As a result, offensive tackles are left with no choice but to hasten their pass sets, aiming to achieve adequate depth to prevent being outpaced.
In this specific instance, Mack outpaces the right tackle, compelling him to “open the gate” and concede contact with Mack (as indicated below).
What elevates the significance of this play is Mack’s capacity to coerce the tackle to create that “gate” without extending his rush beyond the quarterback’s drop depth.
Once he outmaneuvered the tackle, his route only necessitated a lateral dash along the line of scrimmage.
In situations like these, the success or failure of any teammate’s rush efforts becomes virtually irrelevant. The quarterback becomes inevitably compromised.
This instance underscores a pivotal facet of Mack’s prowess—he navigates the field with precision, capitalizing on the smallest windows of opportunity.
His ability to commandeer an opening while adhering to the quarterback’s drop depth is emblematic of his strategic genius.
With his electrifying burst and tactical acumen, Mack becomes a menace that quarterbacks can scarcely evade, regardless of the surrounding circumstances.
Strong Like Bull
In a strategic bid to counteract Mack’s explosive edge speed, the Broncos opted to station a running back to chip him on the edge—a reasonable tactic.
Within this game, a single play emerges as the apex of Mack’s achievements, encapsulating a remarkable blend of awareness and sheer physical prowess.
When defensive ends anticipate an impending chip, one commonly employed tactic is to “chip the chipper,” involving a quick rush at the back before he initiates contact.
Ideally, this confounds the tackle, granting the defensive end an opportunity to engage without being caught off guard. However, this approach is far from foolproof and doesn’t always yield the desired outcome.
Mack, in a display of exceptional understanding and execution, orchestrates an ingenious move. He initiates an initial stride toward the back before forcefully employing a two-handed press—a textbook “bull rush”—against the tackle.
The intricacy lies in executing this while avoiding a potentially destabilizing hit to the ribs from the side by the chipping back.
With impeccable control over his leverage and extension, Mack propels the tackle onto his backside, executing the maneuver so swiftly that the chipping back is left futile in his efforts to make contact (as depicted below).
Adding to this spectacle, Mack maintains his balance and swiftly concludes the play by tackling the towering 6’8″ quarterback for a substantial loss.
The magnificence of this feat is unparalleled; it encapsulates an NFL pass rush of incomparable caliber.
This becomes even more awe-inspiring when one considers the dimensions at play—a 250-pound man taking on a tackle with a weight advantage exceeding 50 pounds.
You Can’t Teach Length
In this ultimate rush, Mack executes a power-infused maneuver by utilizing his inside arm for a stabbing and extending motion, all the while maintaining the freedom of his outside arm.
This sequence harmoniously amalgamates facets of speed, raw power, and Mack’s naturally bestowed arm length—attributes that contribute to this compelling display.
In a familiar scenario, Mack compels the tackle to “open the gate,” revealing his astute awareness of the situation.
Yet, what truly distinguishes this instance is Mack’s amalgamation of awareness, sheer strength, and unwavering equilibrium.
As he continues to navigate the edge, he masterfully executes the corner-turning motion, maintaining an engagement with the tackle while intercepting the sizeable quarterback who attempts to step up (as illustrated below).
This play synthesizes various elements of Mack’s skill set, embodying his inherent awareness, his capacity to harness formidable strength, and his uncanny balance.
As he seamlessly orchestrates this sequence, Mack renders himself an insurmountable challenge for the tackle, while still managing to stifle the quarterback’s attempted advance.
This encapsulates a triumphant culmination of speed, power, and spatial awareness—a virtuosic feat that underscores Mack’s extraordinary proficiency on the field.
“One-man wrecking crew,” a phrase often invoked to describe football players who commandeer games with unparalleled prowess, finds its quintessential embodiment in performances like those illustrated above.
Considering the multitude of instances wherein plays orchestrated by Mack dramatically shifted the tide—erasing potential field goal opportunities for the Broncos and turning them into points for his Raiders—this moniker resoundingly resonates.
Mack not only disrupted and dismantled this game for the Broncos, but his influence also resonated far beyond the field, fundamentally reshaping the playoff landscape.
With pivotal matches against Pittsburgh and the Bengals still awaiting the Broncos, the contest against the Raiders was a clash they could ill afford to relinquish if their aspirations of maintaining the apex position in the AFC were to materialize.
In the aftermath of this weekend, a perceptibly transformed tableau unfolds on the AFC front. Undoubtedly, no individual in the NFL bears greater responsibility for this transformation than Khalil Mack.
While the Raiders may not ultimately grace the playoff stage this season, they leave an indelible mark—an ounce of retribution extracted from the aspirations of other AFC contenders.
The narrative that crystallizes around Mack paints him as the embodiment of disruption, a force capable of upending the best-laid plans of his adversaries.
He stands not merely as a player, but as a phenomenon that can single-handedly alter the trajectory of a game, a team’s season, and the broader playoff panorama.