ALAMEDA (AP) — Bruce Irvin has joked about being Robin to Khalil Mack’s Batman as part of a dynamic pass-rushing duo for the Oakland Raiders.
With the way Irvin has played the past few weeks, it is time for Robin to get his due.
Irvin is coming off perhaps his most productive game of the season for the Raiders after posting two sacks and forcing Philip Rivers into a late-game interception that sealed Oakland’s 19-16 victory Sunday to clinch the team’s first playoff berth since 2002.
“Whatever it takes to help these guys win,” Irvin said. “I know I’m very capable of doing a lot of stuff. God blessed me with a lot of athletic ability. If they need me to spy, I’ll spy. If they need me to rush, I’ll rush. Any way I can help I’ll do it.”
Irvin has seven sacks so far this season — one off his career high set as a rookie in Seattle in 2012. He has five sacks alone the past five weeks to go along with 18 quarterback pressures and strong play against the run and even in coverage at times.
Irvin, a former first-round pick who signed as a free-agent with Oakland this offseason, said he is playing the best football of his career of late as he has teamed with Mack.
“I think that from the moment that Bruce arrived, he and Khalil had a natural competition or natural kind of bond where they were two alpha males,” coach Jack Del Rio said. “They were going to push each other really hard every day and compete every day. Bruce has been tremendous for us and is a really great addition to the football team.”
Irvin’s improved play has lifted the entire defense. The unit started slowly this season after bringing in several new starters, including Irvin, cornerback Sean Smith, safety Reggie Nelson and rookies Karl Joseph and Jihad Ward.
Oakland became the first team in 49 years to allow at least 500 yards in each of the first two games of a season and was on a record pace for yards per play allowed at 6.9 through six games.
But the defense has tightened since then, allowing only 5.4 yards per play the past eight games and ranking seventh overall in total defense.
“I think we’re finally starting to gel,” Irvin said. “Guys are starting to learn guys’ tendencies, when guys are going to take chances. People can say what they want to say about our defense with the numbers and all that, but when it’s time to buckle down and get off the field we seem to do a great job of doing that.”
The Raiders are tied with the third-most takeaways in the league with 26 and have been at their best in the biggest moments of games. Oakland has faced 11 full drives in the final 5 minutes with the opponent having a chance to tie or take the lead and allowed no points in those situations.
The Raiders have forced four punts, three turnovers, stopped three teams on downs and benefited from a missed field goal in those situations, including last week’s win against San Diego.
“We have to close it out,” Irvin said of the mindset. “If we don’t, we feel like we lost that game if they go down and score and beat us in the last minute. Our defense is doing a great job balling up in key situations and getting off the field and sealing the victory for us.”
Performances like that have changed the perception of the defense and have contributed to Oakland being in first place in the AFC West. Irvin knows what a top defense can do after having been part of one of the league’s best in Seattle when the Seahawks won the Super Bowl following the 2013 season.
But he doesn’t want to compare the two units.
“I hate always comparing us to Seattle,” he said. “We’re Oakland. We’re trying to set our legacy. We’re trying to have teams watch our defense and try to be like us. Seattle is a good defense but we’re also a good defense, an up-and-coming defense that has made a lot of strides.”
NOTES: The Raiders held a light practice with a short week before Saturday’s game. ... DL Mario Edwards Jr. (hip) participated and could be activated from IR this week. ... S Karl Joseph (toe) and DT Stacy McGee (ankle) remained sidelined.
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL