The first thing people want to know about Bruce Irvin is how many snaps he’ll take in Seattle. Pete Carroll claims he can play 600-700 snaps initially in the Raheem Brock role, but others have argued that Brock featured in around 550 snaps. Either way, Irvin can still have an impact at 500 snaps.
Before San Francisco’s week-16 meeting with Seattle in 2011, Aldon Smith had featured in 446 snaps. That was 377 less snaps than defensive rookie of the year Von Miller and 267 less than JJ Watt. Smith still managed to accumulate 13 sacks, 12 quarterback hits, 30 quarterback pressures and two forced fumbles. In comparison, Miller had 11.5 sacks, 19 quarterback hits, 28 pressures and three forced fumbles, despite playing nearly twice as many snaps. Watt had 4.5 sacks, eight hits, 24 pressures and two fumble recoveries. Stats aren’t everything, but it goes to show how Irvin won’t necessarily be required to play even 2/3′s of the team’s snaps to have an impact.
And that’s just as a rookie. If the plan is for Irvin to eventually replace Chris Clemons as the full time LEO, he’ll one day play the majority of the defensive snaps. A lot of people have criticised the nature of the pick, questioning how often Irvin will feature and what impact he’ll have. The Seahawks want their version of Aldon Smith, even if their version isn’t quite so orthodox. As John Schneider told Adam Schein today, “We thought there was a good chance the Jets were going to take him at 16. If we walked out without him, it would’ve hurt. If you like a guy, get him. 12, 15, 28.”
Schneider also called Irvin the best edge rusher in the draft.
In reviewing Irvin’s 2011 season, I wanted to study the Pittsburgh tape first . It was a close game, won with a defensive stop in which Irvin recorded two sacks on the final Pittsburgh drive. Due to all the talk of Irvin being a specialist, I wanted to tally each of his snaps to see what kind of situations he was used.
First down snaps: 13
Second down snaps: 12
Third down snaps: 18
Fourth down snaps: 0
That’s 42% of his snaps on third down, 58% in first and second. Break it down further and 67% of those snaps were in a position of 1-10 yards for a first down. 56% of those snaps were in a position of 6-10 yards for a first down. 33% were in long yardage situations of 11-20 or 20+ yards.
I decided to compare this to a Quinton Coples game (Miami vs North Carolina). Coples is considered more of a prototype pass rusher, indeed, Pete Carroll referred to him as a ‘classic’ defensive end in his pre-draft press conference. However, UNC spelled Coples a LOT. It was interesting that against both Miami and Georgia Tech, he was being taken out of key drives for Donta Paige-Moss. I wanted to see what situations Coples was used in comparison to Irvin – after all, he went one pick later and would’ve been considered by an uninformed media to be a better pick.
First down snaps: 9
Second down snaps: 8
Third down snaps: 7
Fourth down snaps: 0
It’s difficult to compare one game against another, particularly when West Virginia’s meeting with Pittsburgh went down to the wire and the Miami vs North Carolina game was a one-sided affair. However, Coples’ total snaps in the game (24) were one snap greater than the number Irvin took on first and second down alone (23). Irvin had specific duties within the WVU defense and was taken out of certain situations. Coples was just generally spelled in and out whatever the down and distance, for no obvious reason other than rest. And the Miami game wasn’t the exception.
Coples has the frame you’d expect from a top NFL defensive lineman. But when you break down the numbers – whether it’s snaps, pressures, sacks – Irvin comes out on top. So if you’re looking for an impact rusher who can play in space, Irvin makes a lot more sense than Quinton Coples. The Seahawks were looking for an impact rusher who, one day, will play in a permanent role as the team’s LEO.
I admit I was never a big fan of Coples because the 2011 tape was just so disappointing. I wrote this article in October arguing he wasn’t a top pick, at a time when most people believed he’d go in the top five or ten. Coples in Seattle would’ve satisfied the masses, but in Seattle’s scheme he’d likely end up becoming the next failed defensive lineman traded in two years for a throwaway pick. Irvin may be a specialist in the purest sense, but he generally took more snaps for WVU and is much more likely to have an impact in Seattle’s scheme.
Let’s break down the tape. I’ve highlighted some key plays from the video above:
0:18 - Lined up at right end, just off the line in what looks like a comparable role to the LEO. Irvin is well blocked by the left tackle as Pittsburgh run to the right hand side.
0:31 – Another three man front with Irvin back on the right side. He engages the left tackle before spinning back around to release. He sniffs out the QB draw and makes the tackle for a short gain.
0:37 – Same position on the right in a three. Tackle dominates Irvin and shoves him to the ground. Pitt also sends the left guard to double team on another QB run.
0:55 – Same position on the right of a three. Same LT/LG double team which stones Irvin’s edge rush.
1:04 – Same position again. Irvin reads the run, anticipates and makes the tackle.
1:09 – Misreads the run this time and allows the QB to scramble to his left and make a positive gain on second down. Looked a little confused by the call.
1:17 – Short yardage situation where Irvin lines up on the left as an edge rusher. He sprints around and makes a leaping tackle on the ball carrier. Impressive speed to be the guy who makes the tackle in that situation.
1:39 – Back on the right side and this time he bull-rushes the left tackle with some success, as the WVU line dominates to collapse the pocket and get an interior sack. Pitt sends the guard on a double team again and WVU are able to exploit the attention Irvin’s getting on
the edge with a designed blitz, sending two off the edge to confuse the guard and bringing pressure up the middle.
2:02 – This play best emphasises the folly of using Irvin in a three man front. He’s forced to take on multiple blockers, running through traffic up the middle. Really, you want this guy permanently attacking the edge. He played at 220lbs last year, and he’s taking on 300lbs lineman stood next to each other at the LOS. How is he expected to win in this situation?
2:17 – Here’s the problem Irvin will always have against the run, especially in the three man front used by WVU. He’s being asked to set an edge, with no interior help. He cannot absorb the right inside to force the ball carrier wide. It’s a free big gain on the ground for Pitt and surprisingly they don’t exploit this more in the game. The ball carrier simply runs through the huge gap in the defensive line when Irvin engages the right tackle.
2:55 – This is what Irvin does – persistent hussle at the LOS. He pushes off the right tackle twice and beats him with a decent punch. The running back chips in support, but Irvin dodges him and still locates the ball carrier to help bring down the quarterback on a scramble.
3:03 – Irvin actually does a good job setting the edge here versus the run, holding position then disengaging to make the play. Despite his size, he can compete with bigger lineman.
3:27 – Irvin lines up in space on the left. He jukes the right tackle out of the play and only a shove from a supporting guard stops him making the big play. He set the tackle up on the previous two runs on this side, running out of the play to make the double move inside. The guard does well to avoid the big play.
3:40 – Designed blitz. Irvin lines up on the left again. The middle and weak-side linebackers shows blitz but drop into coverage, the three defensive lineman rush. Then the weak-side linebacker rushes. By the time he sets off, the right tackle and running back are both absorbing Irvin. The right guard, without anyone to block, immediately turns his eyes to Irvin. With three blockers effectively concentrating on Irvin off the edge, they were able to dial up the linebacker blitz on the opposite side for a sack.
4:12 – Edge rush from Irvin from the right hand side. He leans around the corner and forces Sunseri to move up into the pocket which had collapsed. He’s sacked, and Irvin’s presence off the edge unsettled the quarterback.
4:38 – Irvin’s first sack comes from the right side. He sprints towards the left tackle and then side steps, beating his man to force the pressure inside. The guard comes on the double team so he checks, sidesteps him and moves towards the heart of the offensive line. He manages to dodge both with two sidesteps and has the closing speed to break on the quarterback and make the sack. Anyone wondering whether Irvin is just an edge rusher should watch this play. It’s a thing of beauty. This isn’t about pure speed, it’s technique, a thought process and execution.
5:27 – Irvin’s second sack. Again there’s a double team, but this time it is just about pure speed and balance. He rounds the edge, turns at an impossible angle and smacks the ball out of the quarterbacks hands for a fumble.
Some other observations I made…
- In the fourth quarter, Irvin was spelled more than any point earlier in the game. He took seven consecutive snaps on 2nd and 3rd down and was often on the field for first downs. Many of his 13 first down snaps occurred in the first half.
- Irvin’s two sacks both came with the game on the line with Pittsburgh driving for a winning field goal.
- Whenever Irvin lined up on the right side, Pittsburgh used a left tackle/left guard double team which opened up the opportunity to blitz the linebackers up the middle. There’s about a 50/50 split between the strong and weak side when Irvin lined up.
- The defensive scheme did not suit Irvin at all. In fact, I wonder how productive he would’ve been in a more traditional 4-3 front or playing as a rush linebacker. It’s not surprising he only registered one sack in his first five games as a full time starter working in a three-man front. Seahawks fans should be excited to witness how he performs playing across from Chris Clemons with bigger lineman absorbing space and blocks up the middle.