One of top priorities for Jack Del Rio’s staff when they took over in Oakland last year was to see Khalil Mack’s sack numbers go up.
Despite being highly regarded after his rookie season, he had just 4.0 sacks and was left out of Pro Bowl consideration as well as Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
“Everybody is saying how good he is and he got four sacks,” said Ken Norton Jr at the time. “I thought to myself, ‘How many great players have four sacks.' You have to get in double digits. So he has a lot of growth to make.”
Mack himself wasn’t ok with his lack of sack numbers, saying at the time; "I'll be honest, mentally it was a little frustrating.”
Their emphasis worked. He moved over to play defensive end a good portion of the time as well as outside linebacker. The result was 15.0 sacks and being named an All Pro at both positions.
Now three games into the 2016 season and Mack has been held without a sack. Only this time Del Rio is saying it isn’t a big deal.
“He’ll get his numbers,” Del Rio said of Mack. “I think he just keeps doing what he does, keep playing ball. It’s not about Khalil [Mack]. It’s about us. What he did was he was a part of a pass defense that allowed 2-of-12 on third down that came up with . . . three takeaways.
“There’s more to playing in football than getting sacks and there’s more that he’s involved in. He’s directly involved in everything that we’re doing and he’s a fine football player and he’s busting his butt and doing a nice job for us. Just keep playing. I don’t want him to start pressing for numbers. It’s not about numbers. It’s about us making the plays we need to make to win games.”
One can correlate Mack’s big numbers last season almost directly to the emergence of Mario Edwards Jr. When Edwards took over as the fulltime starter in place of Justin Tuck near midseason, Mack’s number exploded. Ten of Mack’s 15.0 sacks came in the final eight games.
Even still, by this point last season, Mack had 2.0 sacks under his belt. Otherwise, this season could be a repeat of that second half emergence due to the fact that Edwards was placed on injured reserve with a hip injury and won’t return until at least week nine.
Until then, he will have to average a sack per game to catch up with his midseason numbers from 2015.