As a rookie pass rusher, Khalil Mack seemed eternally a half-step away from making a game-changing hit on the quarterback. He finished 2014 with just four sacks, all of which came from mid-November on. In ’15, he hit everything that moved, his 15 sacks trailing only J.J. Watt for the league lead. This streakiness has bled into his third season—after just one sack in the first five games, he’s put up four in the past three—but the ripple effect on the Oakland defenders behind him has never been more drastic.
The Raiders’ defensive backs have underwhelmed and then some, allowing more passing yards than any other team in the league. While starting corners Sean Smith and David Amerson have shouldered most of the blame, it doesn’t help that the Raiders have just 11 sacks at midseason (tied for 27th). Mack is being counted on to be a cornerstone of the defense, and Oakland can't afford to have its superstar cool off for weeks at a time.