The prevalence of spread offenses in the NFL has created a premium on defensive players who can disrupt the passing game. The Raiders have two such players in Bruce Irvin who they signed to a 4-year deal prior to last season, and Khalil Mack who they drafted 5th overall in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Mack and Irvin have both made a name for themselves by creating sacks and turnovers in the passing game. These are the plays that highlight reels are made of, and fans get excited about, but there is more to playing the EDGE position than just breaking out sack dances. The best EDGE players must be able to hold their own in the run game and again, the Raiders have two guy who can get it done.
Their full range of abilities were on display in the Raiders’ game in Tennessee last season — a zone blocking team that utilizes Marcus Mariota and their running back duo of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry out of the stretch a great deal.
Every zone blocking team runs a staple zone stretch concept. The blocking principles are pretty straight forward. Pressure the defense’s gap responsibilities by extending the line horizontally in an attempt to create running lanes due to over pursuit.
The most common way defensive coordinators will attack this concept is through power and penetration. That is the approach the Raiders take here. The defensive line does not just flow with the stretch, they attack their gaps.
From his EDGE position in this 3-4 Under formation Khalil Mack does a great job of attacking his gap, controlling then shedding the tackle, and forcing the run back inside to his help. Dan Williams’ penetration from his 1 technique really bottles this run up and it is stopped for a 1 yard gain. Again watch the power Mack exhibits against a tackle that out weighs him by about 50 pounds.
Throughout the season both Mack and Irvin proved that they could not be blocked one on one by a tight end. The advantage to the Raiders defense here is that the offense must commit a tackle or pulling guard to the EDGE man or risk a run losing yards. This prevents the offense from releasing their offensive linemen to the defense’s second level (linebackers) and creating gaps for long runs.
That does not mean teams did not try to block them one on one at times. Take this play, for instance.
This is an inside zone play the Titans run against the Raiders 4-3 under front. The Titans attempt to block Mack with a tight end and end up with a disastrous result. Mack sheds the tight end with ease and races Darius Latham from his three technique to stop running back DeMarco Murray for a four yard loss.
Offenses will at times leave an EDGE player unblocked anticipating their backside pursuit will not be able to reach the running back before he hits the hole. Teams may want to take notice of this play before making that assumption of the Raiders EDGE duo.
Both have shown an impressive combination of power and speed which is on full display here from Irvin.
On this play the Titans ran a counter against the Raiders 3-4 under front. The Titans do not anticipate Irvin being able to close on the running back (or the tight end fails on his trap block) and leave him unblocked. Irvin scrapes the line with ease and stops the run for a 2-yard gain.
When defenses line up linebackers at the end of the defensive line they run the risk of the offensive tackles simply overpowering them. An offensive coordinator will evaluate each player in the defensive rotation for any weakness they may be able to exploit. If they find an EDGE player who plays soft, they will certainly attack them. The Raiders do not have to worry about that.
Both Irvin and Mack give up an average of 50 pounds to the tackle they face on any given play yet they consistently outperform their assignment. It will not show up in the stat sheet but plays like the one below will propel the Raiders into the playoffs in 2017.
This play ends in a long completion but the sheer power Irvin shows is something to behold.
Irvin unleashes a bull rush from his right EDGE position in the Raiders nickel under front. He drives the right tackle back into quarterback Marcus Mariota who would have thrown an interception here if the pass was played better by corner back DJ Hayden. Irvin makes driving the 310-pound Jack Conklin back five yards look easy.
There is more to playing at the end of the defensive line than just sacking the quarterback. The Raiders have two superstar level players manning these important positions. With the added talent on the Raiders defense you can expect these guys to make even more highlight worthy plays while also doing the important dirty work that does not show up on a stat sheet.