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Bruce Irvin’s regression limiting Khalil Mack, Raiders’ pass defense

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Bruce Irvin is struggling through one of the worst individual seasons of his career, and its negatively affecting the entire Raiders defense. (Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner)
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A year removed from being dubbed the “Slash Bros,” Oakland Raiders pass rushers Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin have yet to live up to that nomenclature 10 games into the 2017 season. And, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year isn’t the one at fault for the unit falling short of expectations.

According to Pro Football Focus’ data, Irvin is coming off a zero-pressure performance in Mexico City. That makes him on pace for just 28 total pressures this season — which would be just eight above his career-low and 27 fewer than his mark last season. As expected, his lackluster production off the edge has dropped his pass-rush grade from 80.0 in 2016 to 49.3, good for 92nd among the NFL’s 106 edge defenders with 170-plus defensive snaps in 2017.

While Oakland has asked Irvin to drop back into coverage on 30 percent of his pass-defense snaps this season (a 10-percent increase from a year ago), the former first-rounder has still underwhelmed on the pass-rush snaps he’s been allowed.

Among the 51 edge defenders with 200-plus pass-rush snaps this season, Irvin ranks 48th in pass-rush productivity (6.4), a PFF-born rating that measures pressure created on a per-snap basis with weighting towards sacks. By comparison, he earned a 10.1 pass-rush productivity rating with Oakland last season and has never finished a season below 8.0 in his NFL career.

Irvin’s inefficient pass-rushing performance hasn’t done any favors for the team’s injury-plagued secondary, but no Raiders player has suffered more from his regression than Mack.

Mack earned DPOY honors last season largely due to his pass-rushing prominence opposite of Irvin, as he led all edge defenders in pass-rush productivity (15.0) and total pressures (96). However, without much of a presence along the opposite edge, opposing offenses have directed more attention to Mack’s side at little-to-no cost.

Despite owning the league’s 11th-ranked pass-rush grade (86.9), Mack has recorded just 45 total pressures in 2017, meaning he’s on pace to have 24 fewer pressures than last season. Additionally, his pass-rush productivity rating has dropped from 15.0 to 11.8.

Oakland’s backup edge defenders Shilique Calhoun and James Cowser have done very little to account for Irvin’s miscues with just five pressures between the two of them.

Pairing the lack of production off the edge with Oakland’s inconsistent interior defensive line, the Raiders rank tied for last in the league with just 14 sacks.

Irvin’s future in Oakland could be in jeopardy if he doesn’t turn the corner before the season’s end.

Signed in 2016, Irvin’s four-year, $37-million contract includes a potential out following this season. Oakland could save the remaining $19.5 million on his contract if they choose to release him prior to the start of the 2018 season.

Whether Irvin’s 15th-ranked run defense grade (84.5) is enough to keep him in the picture next year is yet to be determined. But, the Raiders’ Slash Bros are in desperate need of a resurgence — if not a makeover.

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