WATFORD, England — Thirteen months after trading away Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden still didn’t sound too interested in talking about the now-Bears' All Pro edge rusher.
When asked Wednesday at the Raiders' camp in England what the challenge of scheming against Mack and his freakish ability to “sack the football,” as Bears coach Matt Nagy puts it, Gruden quickly pivoted to talking about other players.
“The problem is you’re not just scheming for him,” Gruden said. “(Leonard) Floyd is not a bag of rocks. The guy’s a great player.
“They have two of the best inside players in the league and have a great blitz scheme. It’s easier said than done to put two guys on Mack. They blitz enough where you can’t get help. That’s why we brought in (right tackle) Trent Brown, that’s why we drafted (left tackle) Kolton Miller in the first round. Those guys are going to have some tough snaps against a great player.”
Those last three words were the most direct Gruden was about Mack in his answer.
It's not surprising, though, that Gruden grew weary of these inquiries about Mack. But it still is notable in light of how transcendent a player Mack has been for the Bears.
To wit: Gruden gave shout-outs to Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman for being “outstanding players” and noted the Bears’ front has excellent depth.
“I don’t know who they are but they’re great players that pop off the film,” Gruden said, likely a nod to Roy Robertson-Harris and Nick Williams.
And Gruden, too, noted how well first-year defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano dials up pressure in different ways.
But Mack? For platitudes on how good a player he is, you’d have to ask players on the Raiders.
“Everything,” Brown said, when asked what Mack does well. "The guy’s a special talent for sure. Definitely got to bring your A game against him and got to do it on Sunday.”
And quarterback Derek Carr likened to his experience playing against Von Miller twice a year in the AFC West to what he’ll face from his good friend Mack on Sunday.
“Sometimes those guys just make great plays,” Carr said. “That’s why they’re Hall of Fame players.”
Through four games, Mack has 4 1/2 sacks and a league-leading four forced fumbles. His 27 pressures, per PFF, are tied for the highest total in the NFL.
The Raiders’ pass rush is improved from where it was a year ago sans Mack, totaling 52 pressures but only five sacks — one-half more than Mack’s total. And since making that Labor Day weekend blockbuster trade in 2018, Mack has still has forced more fumbles (10) than the entire Raiders team (nine) over their respective last 20 games.
So Gruden, in advance of a game the Raiders have to be happy is not being played in Oakland, chose to be more general in his compliments about the Bears’ defense — even though it’s a defense that is so good, in large part, because of Mack’s presence.
“We might need five downs against the Bears,” Gruden said.