Bruce Irvin may not be the dominant every-down linebacker he once was the last time he played in a Dan Quinn defense, but the veteran should have plenty left in the tank to boost the Falcons’ pass rush.
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It appears that’s how Atlanta will use the 31-year-old linebacker turned defensive end, who agreed to terms with the Falcons on Wednesday after he was released by the Oakland Raiders on Monday.
“Number one, it was an opportunity for us to add another pass rusher into our group,” Quinn said of signing Irvin. “So, for me, I’ve had experience with him and to have that, familiarity with the scheme and how we want him to play and the style and attitude that we love to rush with. We’ll feature him as a pass-rusher within the group. We’re very fortunate to be able to have him here.”
Because there is a history between Irvin and Quinn, who worked together during the 2013 and 2014 seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, playing in two Super Bowls and winning one in that time, it’s worth looking back at how Irvin was utilized then to gain insights on how he fits now.
But, right off the bat, it’s important to note that Irvin’s role will be different from what he was asked to do in Seattle.
As a member of Quinn’s defense in Seattle, Irvin played the traditional Sam, or strongside linebacker, that De’Vondre Campbell currently occupies in Atlanta. That role requires versatility from a linebacker, who will both rush the passer and cover opposing receivers in the slot. Campbell’s growth in this role for the Falcons is yet another sign that Irvin is coming in to be a pure pass-rusher.
The benefit of Irvin having occupied the strongside position for the Seahawks and playing a similar role early on with the Raiders before becoming more a pass-rushing specialist is that he is very comfortable playing on the line of scrimmage.
Naturally, as Irvin gained more experience playing in the NFL he added different tools to his belt as a pass rusher. Now a veteran in the league, it’s those tools, along with the attitude he brings on the field and off of it, that make him a fine addition to the Falcons defense.
“He’s a real competitor,” Quinn said. “That point he has real energy and toughness and that second effort, the finishing part of it, is always going to be at hand. To add another guy with his speed and toughness into this group, he fits all the traits that we’re looking for in our defense. It’s an excellent addition for this defense.”
The Falcons already have a pure speed rusher in Vic Beasley at defensive end, a second-year end in Takk McKinley who has flashed both strength and power and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, who is an incredibly polished interior pass rusher. By adding Irvin to that mix, the Falcons get a crafty, technical rusher who does not quit on any play.
Notably, Irvin is also adept at knocking the ball out of a quarterback’s hand while pursuing him. It’s clear Irvin has learned from Quinn, because he’s always cognizant of where the ball is and whether or not he can jar it loose. As Falcons fans know, Quinn places the highest priority on the ball and generating turnovers.
The seventh-year defender has forced 15 fumbles during his career, with a vast majority of those fumbles occurring via a strip-sack of the quarterback.
And while the Falcons will likely use Irvin primarily in obvious passing downs early on, it’s possible his role could expand in the future. Whether or not that happens, it’s certainly a benefit that, as a former linebacker, Irvin has plenty of experience defending the run.
He may be most valuable early on because of his pass-rushing acumen, but Irvin can more than hold his own against on-coming blockers in the run game and win at the point of attack. Irvin will start in the Falcons’ nickel package, but offenses continue to run out of three- or four-receivers sets at greater frequency.
Irvin will be fine if teams run the ball at him.
In the short term, the Irvin signing has an added benefit. The Raiders have already played the Cleveland Browns this season, meaning Irvin has very recent experience playing against the offense he will be facing on Sunday. Perhaps that’s part of the reason the Falcons feel they can plug him into the rotation immediately this weekend.
Even better, one of Irvin’s three sacks this season came against the Browns. What better way for Irvin to kick off his run with his hometown team than making a play like this on Sunday?