It's been a joy to watch Khalil Mack grow on a nearly game-by-game basis from his rookie year of 2014 thru his sophomore year last year. In that time, he has shown continual improvement in his pass rush moves, which culminated in that eye-opening 5 sack performance against Denver.
He went from a talented but raw rookie to a very productive and dangerous player who finished 2nd in the NFL late in sacks, 2.5 sacks behind All-Everything JJ Watt. And as every Raiders' fan knows Mack is most certainly not a one-trick pony; his run defense is actually well ahead of his pass rushing!
Here's a look at what Khalil Mack has shown us this pre-season and what we may expect to see in 2016.
One of the things that keeps improving is how Mack gets off the line, how he takes off when the ball is snapped, and how he accelerates towards the backfield. When we look back at his rookie year, we can see how raw he was compared to the level of polish he's developed since then.
Here is Mack v Houston in Week 2 of 2014 :
Mack's get-off is unremarkable and a couple of technique items show up that slow him down. Pay close attention to a few items :
- Drop step with his front (left) leg.
- Wide steps outside the width of his shoulders
- Flailing arms
Compare that to this example against Green Bay in PS Week 2 of 2016 :
It looks like completely different player, doesn't it?
Again, take note of his get off :
- Take off from his back foot, slight drop step
- More linear steps
- Arms swinging tighter into his body
- More anticipation and timing
He's more compact and efficient coming off the line and that makes him more explosive as well as being a more difficult target for the offensive lineman. Cleaner more neutral positioning makes him more difficult to read.
A more compact form (arms in and legs/feet underneath the body) allows for more explosive lateral movements, like cutting inside or spinning. It keeps his arms cocked and increases the power and precision of his hand strikes.
Maybe call this the "SMack move".
Reggie White had the all-time best club move; he had so much power in that one arm that he could totally uproot an offensive tackle and clear the way. That's what we would call the "Reference Implementation"
Mack's club isn't at that level, but still very effective especially as used in conjunction with his other talents.
Here's a club against Arizona's #72 DJ Humphries, Preseason Game 1 :
Here we see how important that improved Get-Off is.
Khalil gets off the line so well that immediately he threatens the edge and forces Humphries to protect the outside. If Humphries gets too much weight onto his outside leg, Mack has the power and agility to counter to the inside.
Mack explodes two steps upfield.
DJ Humphires actually does a very good job of keeping his weight centered, but just as the right tackle turns his shoulders to the outside, Mack outquicks him and then counters to the inside. To clear the path, he swings his right arm into Humphries' left shoulder and then bursts thru towards the QB.
Notice that DJ slows Khalil up just a bit with the arm around the waist and Khalil's outside arm (left arm) getting caught up. As Khalil clubs and turns, he just drags that back arm through. Instead, if he brings the left arm over the top and violently swipes down on Humphries' arm (Swim move), he may come fully clean a beat sooner than he did here.
That same game, Arizona's Calais Campbell showed us (and Kelechi Osemele) what a vicious club/swim move looks like :
Now let's compare a couple of stills :
Khalil Mack's Club
Calais Campbell's Club
Khalil Mack's Arm Thru
Calais Campbell's Swim
Working and developing that swim move to finish his club could turn a great move into a devastating one. It's the difference between a QB Pressure and a QB Hit.
The interesting thing is that Khalil actually has a pretty vicious swim move already.
Mack's swim move is good, really good, but he just doesn't use it very much when he pass rushes.
But in the run game, Khalil has made potential blockers look embarrassingly bad as they at times totally whiff on him.
Here's a clip against Green Bay :
That's #82 Tight End Richard Rodgers.
Mack has a potentially devastating option in his arsenal if he wants to use it, but at present, he seems less confident in using to rush the passer than when he seeks out the runner.
But for Raiders' fans, it's an amazing bit to see because it means that we have an insight into what we have to look forward to.
In Training Camp, Vic Tafur tweeted
"Donald Penn watched practice tape of Mack getting inches from ground and beating him for sack, then looked at Tice. Tice: 'I’ve got nothing.'"
This piqued my interest more than any other tweet this offseason because I've been looking forward to seeing Khalil Mack use an outside Dip / Rip move for a while. His Get-Off has improved so that he can threaten the outside, but without a finishing move, he's not able to complete the play and destroy QBs from around the outside.
It was slightly disappointing that Mack did not use this outside edge move in his limited appearances in the preseason, but on the plus side, he did show the Dip move.
Instead of using into during an outside rush, he used it to attack the inside.
Here, against Arizona :
The TE takes a step outside as Mack immediately jabs down inside.
Khalil drops his outside (left) shoulder. This does a few things :
- It lowers his body below the blocker's shoulders creating space
- It lets Mack run into space instead of into the blocker's body
- It makes Mack overall a smaller target for the blocker to hit
- It changes the angle between blocker and rusher so that the blocker is left reaching
Khalil quickly wins the inside.
As he breaks upfield, as in the Counter Club move, Mack's outside arm gets caught up just a bit with the blocker. Watch Mack's left arm as he tries to run past the tight end. At the very end, he has to extricate that arm and it slows him down.
It looks like Mack is in perfect position to execute a nice Arm Under (Rip) move. He's got his left shoulder underneath the blockers' arm; if he can just take that arm and explode it upwards, he may be able to totally clear that blocker in a hurry and then be free to explode unimpeded by that blocker (of course there's that OTHER blocker, but still...).
For an example of what a Rip move is capable of, here's a look at then-St Louis Rams' DE #94 Robert Quinn using the move against Seattle :
1. Create Space and cock the arm
Quinn wins the inside and gets to a position where he is facing air rather than the blocker. The blocker has his right hand right on top of Quinn's shoulder pad, though.
In response, Quinn dips his shoulder and drops his arm straight down, preparing for the Rip move.
Quinn swings the arm up and slams his biceps right into the blocker's forearm. Quinn has cleared body and the only thing in the way is the blockers arm.
Once Quinn lifts the blockers forearm over his shoulder pad, the blocker is fully behind him.
4. and Clear
Once the blocker is stuck behind him, Quinn is fully cleared and can now attack the QB.
Khalil's move is coming along. It's already to the point where he's winning the battle by positioning and quickness and he's really close to totally obliterating the blocker. A clean finish to clear him of the blocker will set him up for a quicker and cleaner lane to the QB and also make it easier for him to deal with that second blocker.
Keep an eye on Khalil using this inside dip and see if he puts that Rip into it and if it helps him out.
Long Arm Power
Khalil Mack came into this league with devastating strength and power and dynamite in his hands. His go to move early on was either the Bull Rush or the Speed-to-Power. Last year and into this pre-season, he's showing variations of that power by using a single Long Arm with impressive results.
By getting great hand placement and leverage, Mack is able to get a single hand into a lineman's shoulderpad and just extend and power thru him with that one arm.
Against Arizona, Khalil uses a single Long Arm to throw the Right Tackle to the ground while getting mugged by the guard.
Against Tennessee, he gets great leverage on Taylor Lewan to not only drive him backwards but to also get Lewan's shoulders turned.
Anytime that a rusher can put an offensive tackle up on one leg, it's impressive, but again what we see is that Khalil doesn't quite finish. In part it's because Lewan does what a good tackle does in such a situation : he grabs whatever he can to slow down the pass rusher, but it's also in part to Khalil not quite having a move to finish off the compromised blocker.
As it was, Mack put some pressure on Marcus Mariota and forced the incompletion, but finish off the pass rush and he gets a full speed hit--and maybe a sack--on the QB.
It's unavoidable. When a player grows and becomes such a dynamic force, opposing coaches are going to be focused on him.
Reggie McKenzie has taken steps in the past two years to bolster this defense and bring in talent to help ease Mack's burden. Bruce Irvin, Mario Edwards (after week 8), Jihad Ward, Justin Ellis, Dan Williams, Denico Autry are all very nice players, but compared to Mack they are secondary concerns.
In the Preseason, there was an indication that Mack is going to get the very special treatment given to guys like JJ Watt and Von Miller :
- Double teamed on nearly every play
- Scheme the plays to run away from Mack whenever possible
Consider this play :
Raiders' fans everywhere cried "Foul!" on this play, but Mack himself knows that this type of physicality is going to be his life from now on. The offense will try to beat Mack down with as many big bodies as possible and wear him down so that he is ineffective late in the game.
They will also try to force him to protect space and scheme to make him think and be disciplined instead of playing fast and dangerous.
Both Green Bay and Tennessee used the QB Naked bootleg (and fakes) to stress Mack's defensive responsibilities. Expect most opposing offensive coordinators to take notice and make full use of these types of plays, particularly Gary Kubiak whose offense naturally tends to it anyway.
It will be up to Mack to make defenses pay for it, but if Mack loses his assignment and big plays result, offenses will re-double their efforts.
With so much focus on Mack, it will create opportunities. We already saw this last year, but expect it to increase. Autry, Irvin, Edwards, Ward, et al are going to get many chances to go 1-on-1 with a blocker and it is up to them to make Opponents pay for it.
Khalil Mack is now garnering attention all around the league as one of the great all around defensive players in the game. The scary part is that he is still growing, developing, and learning. He's not really Raw anymore, but he's not yet what we could call Polished. He's in an in-between developmental state where he's still figuring things out and while he's doing so, he's rampaging on top of the faces of fallen blockers and QB's.
Khalil Mack version 3.0 is incoming. It's going to be awesome to watch.
One final note : Raiders' fans need to send Buffalo GM Doug Whaley a fruit basket for trading two 1sts and a 4th to Cleveland to leapfrog the Raiders and then drafting Sammy Watkins. If not for Doug Whaley, Khalil Mack would be probably be playing for Hue Jackson in Cleveland right now..