Obviously playing two pretty terrible quarterbacks two weeks in a row will help your defense look good. That said, can you imagine what the Raiders would be facing had the defense not stepped up in key moments? We could very well be looking at the Raiders losing to one of those terrible QB’s.
The joke of late for the Raiders is that only Tom Brady has been better this season than whomever was playing quarterback for the Raiders’ opponent. And two weeks ago, they didn’t have a single interception on the season and were last in the NFL in sacks.
Last season they weren’t great in pass defense either, but they made up for it with turnovers. And they always had the pass rush threat from Khalil Mack, even if they had the fewest sacks in the NFL.
Facing Geno Smith and the Giants Sunday, they still found themselves in a one-score game most of the way. And when you consider they had two turnovers, that tells you how close this game was to a very different outcome.
In the second quarter, with the score tied 7-7, the Giants drove to the Oakland 29-yard-line, in position to take the lead. Then on third and five Bruce Irvin came around the left edge to force the strip sack Geno Smith. The Raiders then drove for a field goal of their own. That’s a 6-point swing. I asked Irvin how big his eyes got coming after Geno Smith for that strip.
“Big, bro,” said Irvin of sacking his old West Virginia teammate. “That’s the best play in football to me. It was a big moment. We pride ourselves on turnovers. We haven’t gotten that many this year, but they’re starting to come. That’s two in two weeks, three in two weeks. They say they come in bunches. We have to keep practicing, keep focusing on that and they’ll continue to come.”
It was Irvin’s third sack the over the past two weeks, and his third forced fumble of the season – a category in which he led the league last season (6).
Before the end of the second quarter, a blocked punt put the Giants in scoring position again. And once again, it was a strip sack that kept them from tying up the game or perhaps even taking the lead at the half. With the ball at the 4-yard-line with :42 seconds remaining, Mack came screaming around the right edge to sack Smith and rip the ball away from him. It was Mack’s third sack in the past three games and it held the Raiders slim lead.
Neither team was getting anything going over the first three quarters, leading to a 10-7 game to begin the fourth and the Raiders won by one score, 24-17. If either of those two turnovers not happened, it could have been the difference.
“When you look at the stats throughout the NFL, turnovers are always the key,” said NaVorro Bowman, who recovered the Irvin strip. “No matter what happened in the game, if you look at those turnovers, that’s who won the game.”
It was Bowman who had the interception in the end zone against the Broncos; another one score game.
Fitting it was also a sack that ended the Giants final possession, forcing them to settle for a long field goal. This time it was Denico Autry who, like Irvin, posted his third sack in the past two games. His four sacks this season is a new career high.
We still have yet to see the secondary get into the act by intercepting a pass, but with the pass rush showing up — they have eight sacks the past two weeks — the odds of that happening rise exponentially. Three forced turnovers in two games is good regardless of who is making them or how they happen.