In the offseason, this was one of Reggie McKenzie's priority signings. And immediately, Bruce proclaimed that he was coming here to help lead this team to a Championship. His energy and his leadership were fantastic and before he took one snap on the field, he quickly became a fan favorite.
Now that he has taken the field and shown what he can do, it's even better than I had hoped for. Here's a look.
You know that teams are going to be running to away from Khalil Mack's side. Mack is as destructive a run defending force as there is in the league and so Bruce is going to have to hold up on his side. The good news is that Bruce is an excellent run defender for sure and teams are not going to make a living running at him.
Here's a look at a few plays :
Playing Force and Taking on the pulling guard
RG Jahri Evans pulls and Bruce sees and reacts to it immediately and meet the guard in the backfield, forcing the RB to cut up inside a step sooner than he'd like.
Meanwhile, Ben Heeney takes on the FB and Denico Autry pulls a wicked quick swim move on LT Terron Armstead to make the tackle.
Defending the Sprint G Play
Bruce Irvin running down the line with a WR's block is not inherently impressive. What is impressive is Bruce's immediate recognition and understanding of the play so that he's in position to make engagement.
When the Tight End motions over and lines up, Bruce immediately knows what's up. His first reaction on the snap is to turn and find the WR's (6'6", 220 lbs Brandon Coleman) crackback. Bruce then engages immediately. The WR crackback on this play depends on catching the defender by surprise.
In fact, there's a perfect example on this same play. Right behind Bruce is DJ Hayden. On the snap, his eyes are glued into the backfield and the WR blindsides him and takes him out of the play.
This is one of the things that is so impressive about Bruce Irvin : he is an experienced and very intelligent football player. He has the best play/field awareness on the defense.
Takes on the TE
It's a mismatch trying to block Bruce with a tight end.
Earlier in the game, the Saints ran a screen that exploded for 20 yards, but here when the Saints try a similar screen it is disrupted and Brees has to throw it away.
The difference? The first screen play was run at Shilique Calhoun and Jihad Ward who never saw it coming.
This screen play was against Bruce.
Here's a zoom
In the middle of his pass rush, Bruce senses the screen and sees Travis Cadet. So he cuts off his rush, hits and grabs Cadet, and blows up the play. Smart.
Covering Brandin Cooks in the slot
It's not ideal and the Raiders are not going to make a living with Bruce covering guys like Cooks, but once in a while, it can work. Bruce does a goob job of delaying Cooks while help gets there.
It's impressive to see Bruce in space.
In Seattle, Bruce Irvin was used as a Do-Everything defender, which made him a key cog on that fantastic defense. But in Oakland, he promised that Raiders' fans would see more of him as a pure pass rusher and that he would show what he could do.
Sack 1 : No Quit Sack/Fumble
Lined up against Zach Strief, Bruce is handled well initially, but once the angles change, Bruce is able to move and change direction and Strief can't keep up. Bruce makes the beautiful move to tomahawk the ball out.
Sack 2 : Spin move on the T/E Stunt
It's Jihad Ward on the inside and he and Bruce run a T/E stunt. The Saints LG/LT read the stunt and handle it well and then Bruce pulls out a wicked spin move to get free and make the hit on Brees for what should have been his 2nd sack of the night.
This sack was nullified because of a penalty by DJ Hayden.
Jabs to the outside and then explodes on Terron Armstead's inside. It's nice move that may have forced a holding if not for Brees' quick throw.
T/E stunt with Denico
This is a Tackle-End stunt well-executed and the Saints LG cannot react in time and sets Bruce Irvin with a free run on Brees.
Denico Autry runs an excellent pick to take out Armstead. Bruce cut inside and then explodes upfield.
Also, Khalil Mack.
Bruce shows an outside speed rush with a rip move to get to the corner on Armstead. Disruption by the blitzing Malcolm Smith forces Armstead to stop short and let Bruce run free.
Bruce's mobility and explosiveness were well known, but what is a bit surprising is that he these crazy combinations of moves that he uses as he's attacking the passer.
Power to Rip
On this combination, Bruce shows a power move and when he gets Armstead to square up, Bruce slips his arm and speed / dips around the corner, leaving Armstead lunging and reaching for him.
A split-second away from another Brees sack.
Rip to Club
This Rip to Club is an really great one. Since he's already established the effectiveness of his outside rush, he can work off that speed / rip move, then he plants his outside leg and cuts back inside along with a club move.
He (and Mack) is just a split-second away from another Brees sack.
Bruce is awesome.
Watching him rush the passer with his array of pass rushing moves is a simply beautiful thing. And the more you watch and the closer you study him, the more awesome he gets.
He has natural athletic gifts and that's impressive. His getoff and explosiveness are to drool over. There are guys that are gifted with loads of talent that wash out of the NFL every year. In addition to his talent, he's a High Motor Guy who plays 100% non-stop, JJ Watt-style.
Perhaps Bruce's best attribute is his intelligence and his knowledge of the game.
His field awareness and understanding of what the offense is doing is fantastic; he's like a football Jedi out there and it is now very clear why he was a priority signing for Reggie McKenzie and Ken Norton Jr. Obviously Ken Norton worked directly with Bruce and knew exactly what he would bring to the team.
He's the complete package and it's going to be glorious watching him play in Oakland. One game in and I can say that I ABSOLUTELY LOVE BRUCE IRVIN!
Now here's my crazy, knee-jerk prediction : Bruce Irvin will lead the Raiders in sacks this year.
Editor's note: Irvin's performance earned him Honorable Mention among this week's Ballers. See that here.