Linebacker Bruce Irvin
Entering Week 12, the Oakland Raiders had the least amount of sacks in the NFL (14), but after Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos, that's no longer the case. The Silver and Black flexed their muscles on defense, and brought down Broncos quarterbacks Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemian a total of five times, bringing their season total to 19.
It's no secret the that defense struggled at times this season, but yesterday at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum it appeared as though the group was turning a corner. As Head Coach Jack Del Rio has reiterated on numerous occasions, the key to a potent pass rush is balanced coverage, and physicality at the line of scrimmage.
"I talk about it all the time, the keys to sacks are the combination of rush and coverage going hand in hand," Del Rio said during his postgame press conference. "If you're getting the rush you want and the coverage is tight, then the quarterback doesn't have anywhere to go safely with the ball and then you're going to be able to get him on the ground. We got that done five good times and we spread it around a little bit. Denico [Autry] got involved a little bit. Obviously, Bruce [Irvin] got a couple and Khalil [Mack], who is always going to show up. It was good to see a mix of guys."
As Del Rio pointed out, it was a collective effort from defensive lineman Denico Autry, linebacker Bruce Irvin, and defensive end Khalil Mack that led to the defense's big day in the trenches. While No. 52 might not be tallying sacks at the same rate he did last, he's still drawing a majority of the attention from opposing offensive lines, which in yesterday's case freed up Autry and Irvin to do their thing.
"He's always opening stuff up," said Irvin of Mack postgame. "They focus on him, the other three guys need to do a good job of winning their one-on-ones. We did a good job today."
Autry, a former Mississippi State Bulldog, had arguably the best game of his career Sunday, as he notched two sacks (a career-high), and three tackles. Following the game, No. 96 talked about what motivated him to succeed.
"It gave us fuel," said Autry referencing the departure of former Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton, Jr. "It hurt but it gave us fuel to push on."
While Norton being relieved of his duties added some fuel to the motivational fire for Autry, Irvin added that the defensive line as a whole was ready to silence the doubters.
"Guys just let it go," Irvin continued. "We've been hearing all year about how we're last in sacks and I think guys just got fed up. We did a great job as a d-line as a whole getting to the 'QB' and affecting him today."
Before second-year signal-caller Paxton Lynch left the game with a high ankle sprain in the second half of Sunday's loss to the Silver and Black, the Raiders defense limited him to 61 total yards, and an interception in two and a half quarters of play. Between Autry, Irvin, and Mack, they have an average *Pro Football Focus *grade of 80.6, and accounted for all five sacks against the Raiders division rival.
If the trio, as well as defensive end Mario Edwards Jr., defensive tackles Eddie Vanderdoes, Justin Ellis, and Treyvon Hester can use this positive momentum to finish the season on a high note, it's possible the Raiders quest for the playoffs becomes that much more achievable.
Next week the team will continue their push towards the postseason, as they host the New York Giants at home.
Kickoff is scheduled for 1:25 p.m. PT.