The Raiders pass rush wasn’t effective enough early on. Certainly not by Bruce Irvin’s standards.
He comes from Seattle, where defense dominates. The Seahawks bring pressure in waves, and Irvin believes he and Khalil Mack will lead a similarly persistent attack.
It just didn’t happen right away.
The new Raiders edge rusher wanted more out the gate and said as much, but was pleased to see progress made in a victory over the Baltimore Ravens.
The defensive front produced 26 total quarterback pressures in that one, including several when it mattered most. The blitz was effective, as was a four-man rush even when Irvin and Mack drew extra attention off the edge.
Mack had a fourth-quarter sack. Irvin had a sack that forced a turnover in the same period. Irvin, however, appreciated that it wasn’t a two-man show.
“The first three weeks, the pass rush wasn’t there much,” Irvin said Friday. “Last week though, we made significant strides. That happened because we were all rushing together. It’s not just one person getting pressure. It was everyone doing his part. That’s the biggest difference.”
The Raiders haven’t gotten good push on the interior. They clearly miss Mario Edwards Jr., on injured reserve until Week 9 at least with a hip injury. Denico Autry has intensified his efforts on passing downs, and Karl Joseph proved to be an effective blitzer from the secondary.
That, in turn, helped guys off the edge.
“The offense chipped them just like they usually do, but they just played hard,” defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. “They play hard every week and some weeks they’ll have better games and you’ll feel them more than others, but at the same time, with Bruce and Khalil, those are two really good football players who really play hard all the time. So, they’re always going to be out there, but you really felt them a lot more last week.”
Their presence should be felt on Sunday against San Diego. The Chargers have struggled protecting Philip Rivers. Their injury-riddled offensive line has allowed eight sacks, nine quarterback hits and 55 total pressures in four games. According to analytics site Pro Football Focus, San Diego’s pass blocking efficiency – the percentage of pass dropbacks where pressure is allowed – ranks 31st in the NFL.
That should create opportunities off the edge.
“Philip Rivers is a great quarterback,” Irvin said. “He does an excellent job of getting the ball out, but he will sit back in the pocket sometimes. If he doesn’t like his first read, he’ll hold it until something develops. That’ll give us some time to get back there, and we have to take advantage of it. Their o-line is kind of beat up, so we have to win our individual matchups.”
Irvin has won plenty over his first four games in silver and black. He has two sacks, five quarterback hits and six other pressures thus far. His badge of honor, however, comes from another category. Irvin has three forced fumbles thus far, including a pair of strip sacks resulting in turnovers. The Raiders have scored 10 points off those takeaways.
Irvin believes improvement is being made. After giving up 1,035 yards in the first two games, it couldn’t get much worse. He didn’t mask disappointment after a Week 2 loss to Atlanta, saying he didn’t want to spend the season on a subpar defense. The Raiders have been better the last two weeks, but still aren’t good enough.
“We’re still the 32nd ranked defense in the league,” Irvin said. “We’re not where we need to be yet, but we’ve definitely improved. Our communication has gotten better and guys are playing better together. That’s going to take time, but we need to make strides every week.”