Raiders need to focus Mack’s role

This is my Friday column on Khalil Mack. WARNING: This is a Raiders column. 49ers fans — feel free to skip this.

When will the Raiders figure it out?

They make the same mistake every week and it costs them wins. The mistake involves a rookie, Khalil Mack. Before we discuss the mistake, let’s talk about the problem.

The Raiders have the worst third-down defense in football, allowing opponents to convert third downs almost 53 percent of the time, one of the worst conversion percentages ever. Opponents’ drives never end.

Third-down defense shouldn’t be a catastrophe for the Raiders. The Raiders spent their first-round pick this year on the second-best pass rusher in the draft, Khalil Mack. Pass rushers dominate third downs, a passing down.

But Mack has no sacks this season. Did the Raiders pick the wrong guy?

No. They’re using Mack incorrectly.

The Raiders ask him to do everything for them on defense. They ask him to be a run-stopping linebacker who also drops into pass coverage in the base defense on first and second down and a pass-rushing defensive end in the nickel defense on third down. Even veterans struggle to handle all of those assignments.

Why clutter a rookie’s mind with run defense and pass coverage assignments? Why not keep Mack mentally and physically fresh to rush the passer and fix the Raiders’ problems on third down?

Al Davis had a philosophy about rookies: Give them one thing to chew on at first and, when they’ve digested that, give them a little more. Don’t overload their plates.

That philosophy works. In 1983, the Raiders drafted Greg Townsend in the fourth round. He came off the bench as a pass rusher his first three seasons and had 27.5 sacks during that period. And in 1990, the Raiders drafted Aaron Wallace in the second round and he had nine sacks as a rusher off the bench.

Don’t the Raiders know their own history?

Don’t the Raiders study the 49ers’ recent success? The Niners drafted Aldon Smith with the seventh pick in 2011. Smith is better than Mack, but the Niners didn’t make Smith a starter his rookie year. Jim Harbaugh has the same philosophy about rookies as Al Davis. Harbaugh brought Smith off the bench as a pass-rushing specialist and Smith finished his rookie season with 14 sacks.

Raiders interim head coach Tony Sparano seemed on the verge of figuring out his mistake this past Sunday after the Raiders lost to the Cardinals. “We’ve got to look at scheme,” he told reporters at his postgame press conference. “When I say scheme, I mean did we put them in the right situation?”

No, you did not put them in the right situation, Tony. Not Mack. You’re so close to solving this puzzle.

A reporter asked Sparano another question about the Raiders’ third-down defense. “Listen, we’ve got to get off the field,” Sparano said. “The numbers are the numbers. You guys know them. I know them. Our coaches know them. We have to get off the field on third downs. I thought those kids at times in the game played really hard. But what is happening right now by not getting off the field, is it’s 36 minutes to 24 minutes at the end of the game. It’s hard to win football games like that.”

You’ve got it, Tony. Kids like Mack are playing hard only at times because they’re playing too much. You’re overworking the rookies.

“The most tiring thing to do in football is be an edge rusher,” Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver said Thursday afternoon. “A lot of the time you’re 260, 270, 280 (pounds) going against 320 every snap. There is a bigger man leaning on you over and over and over. The best way for those guys is to roll them in.”

By “roll them in” he meant substitute. You’re right, Jason. Roll them in. Substitute. Don’t use Mack almost every play. Don’t let opposing offensive tackles wear him down. He weighs only 250.

It sounds like the Raiders figured out their mistake this week. It sounds like Mack will be a nickel pass rusher the rest of the season.

Isn’t that right, Tony?

“No,” he said Thursday afternoon, stone faced. “Haven’t considered that at all.”


“What I’ve considered is trying to figure out how to shave snaps for him over the course of the game so that we keep him a little bit fresher. That’s what I’m considering.”

Shave snaps on first and second down?

“Depends. But yes.”

Shave away, Tony.

Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at

This article has 34 Comments

  1. KR
    At least we know that Grant is still alive, although not from his work on “inside the 49ers blog”

      1. I bet the Raiders might go 0 and 16. I don’t want it to happen as a fan, but it could very well happen for the Raiders. Of course they could get that one and only win vs. the 49ers, but just don’t see it. And NO, they won’t get it vs. Seattle.

  2. How can you take anything from him seriously ? He called Buster Posey a bust and was ready to boot Frank Gore to the curb after Carlos Hyde, played one game. Oh and he won’t ever say he was wrong. Lowell has a more human vulnerable side and will admit mistakes and his words come out like a Mozart symphony at times, especially on baseball.

  3. I was just referring to how he’s talking Raiders on his Niners blog.
    Didn’t mean to start a sh*tstorm of Iggy-bashing.
    Sorry Iggmeister!

  4. Very good points presented by Grant. Maybe JH learned at the knee of Al Davis on how to best use Aldon Smith his rookie season.

    Holder and Team Most Sacks, Rookie, Season
    Jevon Kearse, Tennessee, 1999 14.5
    Dwight Freeny, Indianapolis, 2002 13.0
    Leslie O’Neal, San Diego, 1986 12.5
    Simeon Rice, Arizona, 1996 12.5

  5. Sio Moore is their best player on D, and they can’t even figure out where to put him. What chance they can figure it out with Mack?

      1. Yeah, Moore provides such good effort every down, can get sideline to sideline, knows how to get after the QB, and can really lay a hit. I was really hoping the 49ers would take him in the 2013 draft. Oh well, Raiders got a good player.

        Attaochu reminded me a bit of Moore from this years draft, but a better pass rusher and less of a run stopper. Its a shame for the Chargers he’s been injured, because he showed some skills week 1.

  6. KC 3
    SF 2
    KC up 2 to 1.
    And according to ESPN, everybody in the US, all 50 states, voted for KC to win the WOrld Series.
    2 more to go. I’ll be very happy to not go through another day of heavy traffic if the Giants had another flop of a world series parade.

  7. Whooo, Gary Radnich attacking CK’s media’s skills next to saying quote: Carr never hangs his head around the media! ON top of CK needing passing skills and to stay in the pocket, he needs to have better media skills too. Wow, guess Montana and Young never had that problem.

      1. I bet the Raiders are holding off on the first win on purpose just to get it against the 49ers. I think that’s smart if a team was to go 1 and 15, use that only win for bragging rights to beat the 49ers.

  8. When I see these silly warning words on columns that are not Niner related, I think of the robot on Lost in Space, flopping his arms ” Warning Warning “

    1. Have no fear, Jim Mora is here. I just want the Royals to win because look what happened last time Giants won a world series: STreet fires, moron from Novato damaged a MUNI bus, fights, and how do we know during the time the Giants had 2 parades there wasn’t anything bad going on if the media was asked not to report it? Then when the Giants had parade number 2, wrecked all the traffic. Unless the Giants hold the parade on a WEEK END that makes more sense, I think it’s overall stupid to give the SF Giants any cause of a celebration when they did nothing but play for a stink division that plays dead like our division.

  9. The Patriots needs to do what it takes to get V. Jackson but I’m surprised to not see the Saints name on the list of teams after him. They need a legitimate WR that isn’t a TE.

      1. I haven’t look at it but those things can be worked out if both sides want the trade to happen.

    1. CFC: I don’t know much about his stats just looked @ wiki. I’m assuming he’d be a great acquisition for Seattle.

  10. If the Bucs trade D. Martin they’re as dumb as the Raiders. I can see dumping V.Jack, but to throw away your run game when it isn’t the problem by a long shot is simply myopic.

    1. It sounds like we might need someone desperately this year in the redzone. Also, looks like Tate’s someone we should have kept. Oy vey!

  11. How the hell does something like this happen to a team?? And pls don’t say PEDs b/c they test all teams. I just don’t get it. Is it a loss of confidence, losing those 3 D line players??

    1. He’s been brilliant this season using his big frame to make catches over DBs. Far better than I thought he’d be this early in his career.

      1. Yeah he’s been fantastic at the catch point and while his hands are still a bit inconsistent, he’s improved immensely at making catches in traffic. Also has clearly done a lot of work on his releases at the LOS which look better as well. I definitely missed on him, did not think he could have that kind of success against a Sherman type of corner.

        1. Was he matched up on Sherman?

          The key for him now is whether he can learn to run routes better to create some separation. While he’s good making contested catches, and he could make a career doing that, to be a truly dominant WR he still needs to learn how to get himself open and give his QB an easy target and a chance for some YAC.

          1. Yeah Sherman was following him around, had a number of nice catches over him but also had one drop for a TD over him early as well. The routes could definitely used some work but to his credit, he was getting some decent separation for most of the game from what I saw.

  12. 1 more game before San Francisco is unsafe to be at when the Giants cheat their way to win the World Series, clog up traffic, cost people jobs, and cost kids detention. Friend of mine lost his job 2 years ago Giants won a World Series for traffic was bad.

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