If any player has benefited more than the others on the Raiders defense with the switch from Ken Norton Jr. to John Pagano as defensive coordinator, it has to be outside linebacker Bruce Irvin. Though he will need 2.5 sacks to get to 10 on the year, he has been transformed in this new-look Oakland defense.
The AFC West is all about top-tier pass rushers. While Irvin and Khalil Mack have formed a nice tandem the last two years, Irvin has finally begun to give Mack a run for his money. Five of Irvin’s 7.5 sacks this season have come after Norton’s last game, which was the debacle against the New England Patriots down in Mexico City.
Even if Irvin hasn’t had a sack in the last two games, his ability to generate pressure has led to great things with this Raiders defense. It has given guys like Denico Autry and Jihad Ward opportunities to get after the quarterback. His relentless pass rush has allowed guys like Karl Joseph and Reggie Nelson to come up with some interceptions.
To be fair, it might have been a little bit too late, but you have to love the on-field chemistry that Irvin and Mack have had. Oakland still needs a few players to get this defense right, but the Raiders might have another star pass rusher in Irvin. Look for him to get after the immobile Philip Rivers all afternoon.