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Bruce Irvin: Ken Norton Jr. firing was ‘wake-up call for us’ and he’s playing like it

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Oakland Raiders outside linebacker Bruce Irvin didn’t like when former defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. was fired but he has played much better since.

NFL: New York Giants at Oakland Raiders Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland Raiders did not start the 2017 season with much of a pass rush. Khalil Mack, the 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the year, did his part with 4.0 sacks in the team’s first four games. But the triple-teams kept coming and he would get just a half a sack in his next five games. The Raiders just needed another pass rusher to step up. But no one did.

The defense got so bad, defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. was fired. Irvin’s initial response was that of anger expressed in one tweet that said “BULLSHIT.” Then shortly after, Irvin correctly decided to take a look at himself.

“Guys saw the Norton situation, and that kind of got guys fired up, I would say, and more focused,” linebacker Bruce Irvin recently told NBC Sports Bay Area. “Once again, I think guys are looking at that situation and thinking, ‘Man, we can get fired, too.’ It’s not only coaches. It falls on the players, too. It was a wake-up call for us, and guys really started to hone in and get in their books. We’re practicing better, and it’s starting to translate on Sundays now.”

In his first 10 games this year, he had only 2.5 sacks and pressures on just 5.79% of his pass-rush snaps according to Pro Football Focus. He’s never had a double-digit sack season, isn’t on pace for one now and getting almost $10 million a year. He also heard general manager Reggie McKenzie say he is standing by suspended OLB Aldon Smith.

Irvin’s play has picked up the last couple of weeks and it has had an effect on the team. In Weeks 12 and 13, he has 3.0 sacks and his quarterback-pressure percentage tripled to 15.25 percent according to Pro Football Focus. That has led opposing teams thinking about more than just Mack, who has two sacks in the last two games himself. And as a team, to the Raiders have sacked the QB eight times in that span.

He now has the right idea and hopefully, his outstanding play will continue against the Kansas City Chiefs.