The Oakland Raiders have won two of their first three games despite a defense that has surrendered 476 total yards and 340 passing yards per game, both worst in the NFL. And the unit’s struggles might be linked to Khalil Mack’s slow start.
The defensive end, who recorded 79 tackles, 15 sacks, two forced fumbles, and four pass knockdowns en route to his first Pro Bowl selection last season, has yet to record a sack. Mack, the fifth overall pick in the 2014 draft, does have 13 tackles, but his quiet opening has sparked some concern among Bay Area fans.
But several Ravens said they must beware Mack on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
“Those guys are game-changers,” quarterback Joe Flacco said Wednesday in reference to Mack. “You play against good outside rushers, they can get their hands on the ball, they can do a lot of things to disrupt games. It is a big deal keeping him in check and doing our job against him.”
The Ravens did a solid job limiting Mack’s influence on last year’s meeting. He finished with no sacks and just one tackle, but the Raiders completed a furious rally for a 37-33 win on Sept. 20.
The Ravens might be more comfortable about handling Mack if rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley were fully healthy. The sixth overall pick missed his third consecutive day of practice Friday because of a foot injury and is listed as doubtful, meaning James Hurst likely will make his first start of the season.
Hurst, who started eight games at left tackle in 2015, said Thursday that he has been watching a lot of tape on Mack.
“He’s a really good dude,” Hurst said. “He’s received a lot of awards, and he’s earned it. He’s a great player, high motor, incredibly talented guy.”
If Mack is stressing out about his lack of sacks, he has not let that frustration bubble over, according to Oakland coach Jack Del Rio.
“He’s the same guy,” Del Rio said during a conference call Wednesday with Baltimore media. “He works hard every day. He’s really a great young man. He comes to work every day with a lot of energy and a lot of desire to get better. We love what he brings.”