Oakland Raiders: Mack’s dominant night validates Gruden’s decision

GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 09: Khalil Mack #52 of the Chicago Bears warms up before a game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on September 9, 2018 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 09: Khalil Mack #52 of the Chicago Bears warms up before a game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on September 9, 2018 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

Former Oakland Raiders standout Khalil Mack had himself a night in his debut with Chicago – and yet, is strangely validates Gruden’s decision to move him.

You have to imagine that somewhere last night, Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden was cringing a little bit. Maybe he was off beating his head against a wall, smashing dishes on the floor, or running around kicking puppies.

Much like the fans, Gruden could not have been thrilled to see Khalil Mack throw on that Bears uniform, and about a week after dealing him to Chicago, see him utterly dominate the Packers on Sunday Night Football.

Mack’s debut as the newest Monster of the Midway was one for the ages – he had three tackles, notched a sack, a forced fumble, had a fumble recovery, a tackle for a loss, a pass defensed, and an interception he returned for a touchdown.

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For the Raiders diehards, it was nothing short of galling to see him do that in navy and orange, rather than Silver and Black. Most of us – including Gruden – probably watched through our fingers, with gritted teeth, and more angst than your average teenager.

The instant reaction from the Twitterati, was fast, fierce, and utterly furious. As Mack lit up Lambeau Field, everybody and their dog clowned Gruden – and are still at it today. And then you have members of the “professional” sports media chiming in with the same commentary – albeit, with fewer four-letter words.

But, here’s the thing everybody needs to stop and think about – Unpopular Opinion Alert, the faint of heart or easily triggered may want to stop reading now – Mack had an incredible night, there’s no doubt about it, but the night the Bears had as a team, kind of validates Gruden’s decision to deal the All-Everything defensive superstar.

*cue the howls of outrage and expletive-filled responses, and parade of one-finger salutes*

Now, if you’ll just put down the torches, pitchforks, and baseball bats, we can discuss the matter a little further. We good? Okay then,

Mack’s stats are insane. They’re eye-popping, and completely mind-blowing. And you have to think that having had just a week in Chicago’s defensive system, he’s only going to get better, and wreak more havoc as the season progresses.

Despite Mack’s eye-popping stats, the only stat that matters, is that Chicago lost that game.

Despite Mack’s absolutely dominant performance, and the fact that he absolutely destroyed Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay in the first half, Chicago is still 0-1 on the season. They lost and the Packers won, despite Mack’s best effort to ruin their entire franchise for all eternity.

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And that’s because you can have somebody a flat-out dominant, who causes nothing but chaos up front. But, Mack isn’t playing cornerback. He’s not playing safety. And when you have a quarterback like Rodgers, who is elite, they can and will find ways to produce. They’ll find and exploit the holes in your defense.

As great as Mack is and will continue to be, he’s not going to win ballgames. He can certainly slam the door and seal a win – as we’ve seen him do many times before. His presence may (will) force teams into unforced errors that help his team to victory now and then, but Mack’s role is as a closer – he’s not the guy who’s going to win the ballgame, and there is a big difference.

Despite Mack’s dominant performance – the most dominant from any one defensive player most of us have seen in a long time, if at all – he couldn’t stop Randall Cobb from hauling in that Rodgers pass and turning it into a 75-yard catch and run score that proved to be the decisive score in the game.

Nor was Mack able to stop the 51-yard pass to Davante Adams that set up a 12-yard touchdown pass to Adams that trimmed Chicago’s lead to 23-17.

Nor was Mack able to prevent Chicago from squandering what had been a 20-0 lead, as he Bears snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, 24-23.

Let’s not get this twisted. Oakland’s defense absolutely would be better with Mack on it. That’s not even a question. No, this is simply saying that Chicago lost despite Mack’s best effort – and it was a great one – because the defense requires gamers and grinders at all levels.

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And to get those gamers and grinders at all levels, you need to stockpile draft picks, and have enough flexibility under the cap to draw top tier free agents to your organization. In short, you need young guys and you need money to assemble a solid unit.

In the wake of that epic performance against Green Bay, Gruden is getting roasted in the media and all over the internet for dealing Mack. And yet, this could be one of those rare instances where it’s a win-win for both clubs.

Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas Raiders /

Las Vegas Raiders

From the Bears’ point of view, they get a defensive beast to add to what was a pretty good defense last year. They have what they believe is a quarterback playing on his rookie deal, and can afford to pay Mack the astronomical money they’re paying him – not having to pay franchise quarterback money helps the cause.

For the Raiders, they get flexibility under the cap, more money to work with, and some extra first round draft picks over the next two years. Having four first-round picks in the next two years is a good way to stockpile some young impact playmakers – and there are some good ones out there.

It’s unreasonable to think that the Raiders could pay what Mack wanted (and what the Bears paid for hm) and still field a solid enough unit to remain competitive. It would be incredibly tough when about 25 percent of your total cap space is dedicated to just two guys – Derek Carr and Mack.

After all, let’s not forget that come next year, they’ll need to pay for a top-shelf cornerback again, since Rashaan Melvin is on a one-year deal. They’ll also very likely still need to bring in some help at the linebacker position, and probably at the safety spot too, since aside from Karl Joseph, most of their safeties are also on one-year “prove it” deals.

So… knowing they will have this laundry list of needs heading into next season, if the team did not deal Mack, how were they going to address them? Having the extra cash, cap flexibility, and draft picks is going to go a very long way to helping fix the problem.

On the one hand, you hate to see Mack in another uniform. You especially hate to see him be as utterly dominant as he was against the Packers.

But, when you see Chicago take the loss in the fashion they did, despite that sort of monster night from him, if you’re being intellectually honest with yourself, it has to start clicking in that the Raiders need more help on the defensive side than even an All-Everything player like Mack can give them.

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This really is a deal that, although painful to see, could wind up being a win for both clubs in the long run. Mack is but one guy – a very, very, very good guy – but one guy, nonetheless. And the Raiders need to field 11 guys to make their defense work.

It’s probably an incredibly unpopular opinion, but Chicago’s loss, despite Mack’s beastly performance, sort of validates exactly why Gruden chose to not pay Mack, and deal him instead.