CINCINNATI -- Bengals playmakers might want to be careful Sunday afternoon when they wander into the edges of the Oakland Raiders' defense.
That's because if they encounter Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack, they might get karate chopped -- or cut.
"He's fast, he's sudden, he's strong, he's got spin moves, he's got karate moves. The guy is a rolling ball of butcher knives," Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said. "He can play."
A former fourth-overall pick, Mack anchors the weakside edge of a defense that has started playing with the kind of physicality and aggression that has long existed within the fiery personality of its first-year head coach, former linebacker Jack Del Rio.
"I knew he was the kind of guy you'd like to have your young players emulate," Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said of Del Rio the player.
Lewis was so impressed with Del Rio that while serving as the Baltimore Ravens' defensive coordinator in 1999, he pleaded with general manager Ozzie Newsome about hiring Del Rio as his linebackers coach. In 2000, the Ravens won the Super Bowl behind a defense that's been regarded as one of the best in league history.
It's the intensity Del Rio had as both a player and assistant coach that Lewis can tell is starting to rub off on Mack.
"You see that kind of explosive ability from Mack," Lewis said. "Explosiveness and the ability to affect the run and the pass."
As a rookie last season, the edge rusher had 76 tackles and four sacks. In limited action in the preseason, Mack had six tackles and two sacks. Both sacks came in the Week 3 "dress rehearsal" game against the Arizona Cardinals. His play in that contest caught the Bengals' attention and has them intent on doing everything they can to protect quarterback Andy Dalton as best as possible. Cincinnati's offensive line will hope to replicate what it did in 2014, when it took four games at the start of the season before Dalton was finally sacked.
"[Mack] is a heck of a football player and it'll be a heck of a challenge," left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "He plays the game the way you want to see it played. He puts his head down and plays extremely hard. He's a guy if you go out there and get behind a bunch, you're going to have a heck of a time trying to block him all day."
What compounds the difficulty of limiting him, in Jackson's eyes, is the fact the Raiders are beginning to play good team defense.
"They've bought into what [defensive coordinator, and former 49ers linebacker] Ken Norton, Jr. is selling," Jackson said. "Those guys go after the ball. They're tackling people, stripping balls, hitting the quarterback, getting turnovers. It's going to be a tremendous challenge for us, but we're the men for the job. We have the right guys for the job and we have to go get it done."