Khalil Mack’s Dominant Preseason Performance versus the Cardinals

Khalil Mack continues his dominant performance from the 2014 season in last week’s preseason matchup versus the Cardinals. In this game, ProFootballFocus graded Mack at +10.7 overall with 2 sacks, 1 quarterback hit, and 5 quarterback hurries to go along with an excellent game in run stopping as well. Let’s take a look at some of his plays to see how he earned these incredible ratings in this breakdown.

Note: Khalil Mack is wearing #52 in the following GIFs.

Pass Rush

In his rookie year, Mack wasn’t especially known for his pass rushing prowess only collecting 4.0 sacks total. He definitely played better than his numbers indicated collecting a total of 54 quarterback pressures, but it was his versatile pass rushing moves that impressed me the most in this season’s preseason match.

In this first play, Mack (top of your screen) rushes from the 5-tech against starting left tackle #68 Jared Veldheer. After the snap, Mack attacks the outside shoulder of Veldheer initiating what is presumed to be a speed rush around the edge to turn Veldheer’s hips outwards.

After Mack pushes to the outside shoulder, he plants his right foot (outside foot) into the dirt and cuts back completely disengaging from the left tackle to penetrate into the backfield. The left guard #62 Ted Larsen realizes the mistake by Veldheer and has to assist in the play to stop Mack.

Even though Mack didn’t get a sack on the play his intial penetration drew the double team allowing the other defensive lineman to rush 1v1 on their respective blockers forcing Carson Palmer outside the pocket to throw the ball away. Great play. Just a simple reminder that sacks aren’t everything for defensive lineman.

In this next play, Mack (top of screen) shows his ability to convert speed-to-power on backup right tackle #79 Bradley Sowell. Mack starts wide and then cuts directly at his target blocker placing his hands on the breastplate of Sowell. Due to Mack’s outward speed rush then subsequent cut inside Sowell becomes flatfooted and has to drag Mack to the ground to avoid his quarterback getting hit. This should have been a holding penalty.

Again Mack (top of screen) showcases his speed around the edge while using his inside arm (right arm) to throw the right tackle out of his path for the sack.

Finally at the end of the second half, Mack (at the top of your screen) uses his outside speed rush to set up an inside cut. First, Mack steps outside drawing the right tackle to extend and move out of position to try and slow Mack down. Next, Mack uses his outside arm (left arm) to disengage from the tackle. Sowell now has to overcompensate to attempt a block on Mack but misses completely due to Mack’s quickness.

Mack then slips through the B-gap between the right guard and the right tackle easily penetrating the backfield. This would have been an easy sack if Palmer didn’t release the ball so early.

Run Defense

In this play the Cardinals are lining up in Singleback 3TE formation with “13”-personnel. It’s 3rd and 1 and the Raiders are expecting a run. Before the snap, the Cardinals motion WR10 Brittan Golden from the right outside to the left side of the formation creating a trips bunch with two of the tight ends. The call is a simple off-tackle run meant to attack the Raiders defensive line near the bunch hoping to outmatch them with numbers after the motion.

Pay particular attention to the split between the center and the left guard. The normal split is two-and-half feet for most teams. This is at least four feet, which is extremely huge in comparison especially in the middle of the offensive line. This is for a reason: The Cardinals are baiting the Raiders into this gap to take away strength at the real point of attack – the bunch.

After the snap, Mack (top of your screen in the first GIF, left side of your screen in the second GIF) explodes off of the line of scrimmage and disengages from TE85 Darren Fells after lining up in 9-tech. Raiders’ CB38 Carrie slips into the backfield as a free rusher stalling the runningback and initiates the gang tackle. As the leader of the gang tackle, Carrie’s responsibility is to take down the ballcarrier while any subsequent member of the gang tackle’s responsibility is to rip the ball out of the runningback’s hands. Mack gets his hands inside and rips the ball out for a forced fumble.


In 2014, Khalil Mack ended his rookie season out of Buffalo with 4.0 sacks, 10 quarterback hits, and 40 quarterback hurries. This wasn’t even the most impressive part. It was his run defense that separated him from the rest of the 4-3 OLBs. According to ProFootballFocus, he ended the season with a score of +46.9 where the next comparable player was Von Miller of the Denver Broncos who ended the season with +22.0 in run defense. From Mack’s preseason performance against the Cardinals it looks like he is ready to break out and improve in pass rushing as well as maintain a solid base against the run lining up as a three-point pass rusher in Jack Del Rio’s defense.

Follow Samuel Gold on Twitter: @SamuelRGold.

Samuel Gold

Sam founded NFL Breakdowns after working his way through the journalist farm system and is enjoying life in the big league. Growing up outside of Washington, D.C., Sam didn’t choose the Redskins, the Redskins chose him. Out of a love for the game and an insatiable curiosity to determine why his beloved team was underperforming, Sam turned to studying film in NFL Breakdowns.