If you’re a fan of pass rushing – and who isn’t? – the Raiders game in Denver Sunday is must-see TV. At any given time in the game, one of the league’s top two edge rushers will be on the field.
Since Khalil Mack’s rookie season in 2014, the debate has raged about who is the better pass rusher between he and Von Miller.
At that time, you had to give it to Miller. He was established and Mack was merely showing signs that one day he could be on that level. And come Mack’s second season, he arrived on that level.
Mack went from 4.0 sacks as a rookie to 15.0 in his second season, second only to then Defensive Player of the Year, JJ Watt.
Come Mack’s third season, he not only took the lead in the Miller debate, but he took Watt’s crown as Defensive Player of the Year.
Still, the debate rages on. Miller landed ahead of Mack on the NFL Top 100. Miller was the highest ranked defender at third overall and Mack came in at 5th.
What are we really talking about, though? Is it really worth debating who is better? On any given play, either Miller or Mack can dominate an offensive line.
Perhaps no one on this planet knows this better than Raiders third year head coach Jack Del Rio, who was Miller’s Defensive Coordinator for three seasons in Denver, one of which he had a career high 18.5 sacks.
“Both these guys are special players,” said Del Rio. “Von, really gifted. I know firsthand having been able to coach him for those three years. He's a special player. He's a big time difference maker. I feel like Khalil is the same type of thing. They're both tremendous football players and you need to know where they are."
Mack dominated the Broncos’ Oline in 2015 to the tune of 5 sacks in ONE HALF of football. A few months later, Miller dominated the Carolina Panthers Oline with 2.5 sacks in the Super Bowl a week after putting up 2.5 sacks on the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game.
You can easily say putting up 5.0 sacks on those two stages is far more important than Mack’s 5.0 in one half of a regular season game. Then again, is it really Mack’s fault he hasn’t had the chance to put up those numbers on that stage? He did it against the eventual Super Bowl champion, so that’s something.
Despite both being elite pass rushers, they are very different players. Miller is a speed guy who can bend around the edge like few others. Mack can certainly bend around the edge too, but he tends to beat guys through sheer power.
Miller held a pass rushing camp this offseason and Mack attended. Some players you might worry would be giving away secrets of their game which an opponent can use against them. But with Mack it isn’t simply how he’s doing it, but it’s that it’s him doing it. You can perfect his technique, but without practically super human strength he has, it doesn’t matter.
“Some of the stuff he was doing, just can’t be done,” said Miller of Mack at his camp. “Just plain and simple. Just pick up offensive linemen and just run straight through them, that stuff just, it can be done but not the way that Khalil does it.
Obviously Mack and Miller won’t be lining up across from each other, so it isn’t like whomever wins the battle wins the game type situation. What it could come down to is what they have around them.
Miller has an advantage with regard to the secondary. They make the quarterback either have to wait longer for a play to develop, or go through an extra read before releasing the ball. Even if it’s a half second difference, that gives Miller more time to get to Derek Carr and is often the difference between a completion and a sack. And they don’t get much better than what the Broncos put on the field.
“They’re the best secondary in the National Football League,” Miller said. “I’ve been blessed to play with these guys. As a pass rusher, that’s what you want. As a pass rusher, you know that if I rush and it’s a quick pass, that’s truly our game. You know, when you got the best of the best playing behind you, it really changes your game. You can just focus on what you’re doing as a pass rusher.”
Where Mack has an advantage if you think of it in terms of who has more of an impact on the game is the offensive line. I mean for both teams.
Last week’s 4-sack outlier in Washington not withstanding, the Raiders offensive line was the best in football last season, having given up just 8 sacks, and had been over the first two weeks of this season as well.
“I’ve always thought that the raiders had the best offensive line,” Miller continued. “From tackle to tackle, they’re great. Inside, Rodney [Hudson] and Gabe Jackson, Kelechi [Osemele], those guys are beasts. That’s what I always felt.”
The Broncos offensive line has been a train wreck for a while now and still has serious issues. Trevor Siemian has already been sacked 9 times this season after being sacked 31 times last season.
They drafted Garrett Bolles in the first round to try and fix their issues. He has played well this season, though he has never faced anyone like Mack, so Sunday will be a big test for the rookie in his fourth NFL game.
On the other side is former Raider Menelik Watson, who has been downright terrible. Six of the team’s 9 sacks have been surrendered by Watson – the man who will be across from Mack most of the game.
Thus far this season Miller has the lead in pass rushing. He has 3.0 sacks and 8 QB hits. While Mack has 2.0 sacks and 4 QB hits. But all that can swing quickly. Just sit back, enjoy the show, and fear for the lives of your team’s quarterback.