The Atlanta Falcons chose to add a little speed to the defensive line with the free agent signing of edge rusher Bruce Irvin. Here is what the veteran brings to the Falcons.
Once the rumors began to manifest, it seemed only right.
With the Falcons ranking 27th in the NFL in sacks, the defense clearly showcased a significant flaw in getting after the quarterback this season. As of now, defensive end Takk McKinley leads the team in sacks with 5.5 while interior linemen Jack Crawford and Grady Jarrett have 4.5 and three sacks respectively. Granted, both have looked very good this season, but much more is desired from the pass rushing department.
Enter veteran Bruce Irvin.
On Wednesday, the Atlanta Falcons announced that the veteran pass rusher was signed on a one-year deal after being placed on and clearing waivers by the Oakland Raiders. Irvin joins forces again with head coach Dan Quinn and defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel after the two were within the Seattle Seahawks staff when Irvin was a Seahawk in 2013 and 2014.
So what does Irvin provide to the familiar Falcons defensive scheme? Let’s take a look.
It is an attribute that is the calling card to Irvin’s game as a defender. Go back to the 2012 NFL Draft and you will see that Irvin was the best among all defensive linemen in the 3-cone drill with a time of 6.70 seconds. In comparison, that time was better than Chargers outside linebacker Melvin Ingram, Houston’s Whitney Mercilus, and Buffalo’s Jerry Hughes.
In a game against the Panthers in 2014, Irvin (right DE) uses his speed and athleticism to avoid a low block by Jonathan Stewart to chase down Cam Newton from the back side around the same time Newton completes his rollout to pass.
Irvin is equipped with an explosive get-off at the snap regardless if he’s in a stand-up position or with his hand in the ground. His short-area quickness can allow him to be a menace against slow-footed, lazy offensive tackles, or as evident in the Gif above, running backs who are not used to blocking his type of speed. What goes along with his speed is sharp footwork, as he at times sets up offensive linemen with a crossover-like approach when rushing the passer. Some edge defenders develop the speed but Irvin is a natural when it comes to beating the opposition quickly off the edge.
The Falcons defensive scheme is nothing new to Irvin by any means. To put it in context, Irvin has either played in this particular scheme exactly or a defensive blueprint with similar variations in six of his seven seasons in the NFL. While in Seattle, Irvin played under Gus Bradley, Dan Quinn, and Kris Richard as defensive coordinator and while in Oakland, he played for Ken Norton Jr., who was a key member of the Seattle staff while Irvin was in the Pacific Northwest. Nothing here should be new to him.
Pass Rushing Weaponry
Irvin can appear to be a one-trick pony by some, but he has showed enough ability during his career to beat opponents in more ways than just turning on the jets against them. At 250-lbs, Irvin will never be mistaken as a power rusher but when the time is ideal, Irvin will apply power and convert it to speed to chase down the passer.
His hand usage at times is also worth noting, especially when he does decide to attack linemen in their chest and disengage with proper arm length. Irvin is also effective in tackle-end stunts to slither underneath attack in the A-gaps. Irvin can also dip under tackles while maintaining balance to remain upright and effective. There is more than just one lane for Irvin to create pressure on quarterbacks and while his speed is the most noteworthy part of his game, Irvin knows how to get to the quarterback one way or the other.
Irvin (#51) attacks the pads of former Jaguars offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum and executes a spin move to counter Beachum’s momentum. Notice the area where Irvin executes the move which is right at the exact depth of the Bortles dropback.
He plays with a chip on his shoulder after being dubbed as a reach in the 2012 draft after going 15th overall to Seattle. He plays with a chip on his shoulder after a rough teenage life while growing up in the city of Atlanta. He plays with a chip on his shoulder after being told he’s undersized. Irvin has been told just about everything negative in his NFL career. Yet, he still plays as if he has a point to make, and that will continue in Atlanta.
Irvin appeared to take a step back while in Oakland this season with only three sacks on the season along with six tackles and only four quarterback hits. But be mindful that Irvin has never been viewed as the primary pass rusher of a team and that he was while in Oakland after the Raiders foolishly decided to trade Khalil Mack, which allowed opposing offenses to make him the focal point and often game planned against. Plus, the Raiders themselves are currently in a state of flux and in the midst of a disaster of a season.
So Irvin’s numbers may look one way, but watch his film closely and you will see an edge rusher that is capable of penetrating the pocket and generating great pressure. His attitude will be contagious on a defense that could use a nice jolt of emotion.
With former first rounder Vic Beasley not taking that next step as an edge rusher, the Falcons are in need of another chess piece on the defensive line. Irvin is 31-years of age and for some, that is considered “old” or “outdated.” However, the Falcons thought enough of the veteran to bring pressure opposite McKinley and help along the way to a possible late season playoff push. Irvin will likely play plenty in the familiar role of LEO where he’s able to rush the passer but from a looser alignment compared to your traditional defensive end, and that should benefit him and the defense.
A few years back, Irvin publicly stated his goal of playing for his hometown Falcons. While not an elite edge rusher in the same class as Von Miller, Joey Bosa, or Myles Garrett, Irvin could prove to be the much needed addition that the Falcons could use to get over the hump and meet at the quarterback.