14 games into the NFL season, the Oakland Raiders have shattered expectations and hold a 11-3 record, a one-game division lead and are currently ranked second in the AFC. While the offense had been the catalyst for the first half of the season, the defense has slowly turned into a clutch, play-making unit during this second half of the regular season.
During the Raiders’ Week 15 contest against the San Diego Chargers, the Raiders were trailing by three pointers entering fourth quarter. In typical fashion, the offense was able to once again comeback and garner a three-point lead.
However, the Chargers’ offense had one final chance to tie or potentially win the game. After three incomplete passes, quarterback Philip Rivers was in a fourth and long situation, as the pressure from the pass rush of the Raiders was truly effective.
On fourth down, defensive end Bruce Irvin took the corner, past the offensive lineman, and was breathing down Rivers’ back. Feeling the ensuing tackle, Rivers hoisted one final throw towards the first down marker, which was intercepted by safety Reggie Nelson.
That defensive stop earned the Raiders their first playoff birth since 2002, with two games still remaining in the regular season. Head coach Jack Del Rio has witnessed first-hand the emergence of the defense, which has made clutch stops towards the end of the game.
During a postgame interview, Del Rio stated that Irvin’s emergence alongside Khalil Mack has formed a competitive bond between the two, via Raiders.com:
“Well today the way he got around the quarterback was the best part about it, but I think that from the moment that Bruce arrived, he and Khalil [Mack] had a natural competition or natural kind of bond where they were two alpha males,” Del Rio said. “They were going to push each other really hard every day and compete every day. Bruce has been tremendous for us and is a really great addition to the football team.”
The two defensive ends have wreaked havoc this season, forming competition between each other to out due the other. During Week 15, Irvin collected six tackles (five solo), including two sacks and two tackles for loss.
Although Mack’s consecutive game sack streak ended against the Chargers, he totaled four tackles (two solo), with a 0.5 tackle for loss. Before the Raiders faced off against the Chargers, defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. stated he wants more pressure on the quarterback.
The Raiders currently rank tied for 27th in the NFL with their 25 sacks this season. Mack and Irvin have 18 of the 25 sacks this season, as the two defensive ends have been plenty for opposing teams to handle.
Del Rio recently stated that the interior lineman need to step up their quarterback pressure, in order to aid Irvin and Mack on the edges.
Nelson, who intercepted the final throw from Rivers, has benefitted alongside his secondary members because of the pressure the Raiders have recently gotten. When asked how he benefitted from the two dynamic pass rushers, Nelson stated that the two groups coincide and benefit from each other:
“I love it,” Nelson said. “Without the pressure, it wouldn’t have happened. Like I said, the secondary did a tremendous job today putting pressure on Philip [Rivers] and got him off the spot.”
On the season, Irvin has 51 tackles (43 solo), with seven sacks, one pass defended and five forced fumbles. Mack enters Week 16 with 65 total tackles (45 solo), along with 11 sacks, one interception, three passes defended and five forced fumbles.
The Raiders have a Week 16 contest at Oakland Coliseum against the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts remain one game behind in the AFC South, while the Raiders continue competing for crucial playoff positioning.