The 4-11 Oakland Raiders lost their starting quarterback to injury in Week 16. With Carson Palmer out, the Raiders have to decide between Matt Leinart and Terrelle Pryor. Not a tough decision, but one the coaching staff has to make.
At this stage of the season, it doesn’t matter that much who starts; neither Pryor nor Leinart can drastically alter the team’s final results. One game doesn’t make a difference and barring something like 11 sacks in a game, there aren’t going to be any major statistical shifts.
A win over the San Diego Chargers on Sunday would get the Raiders to 5-11—three wins shy of last season. Is three wins a reasonable setback when you consider the roster turnover? Maybe in the big picture, a three-win setback is reasonable even if it doesn’t make the fans feel better.
Talking Point for Week 17
Leinart or Pryor? That’s the question this week. Dennis Allen has not named his starting quarterback for Sunday’s game and is expected to make that announcement on Friday.
Leinart is a journeyman now and he’s a known commodity at the quarterback position. The signing of Leinart made sense at the time as he would help Palmer and Pryor learn Greg Knapp’s offense. Leinart had little upside as a quarterback, but he could be trusted to run the offense in Palmer’s place early in the season if needed.
With the season lost and only one game remaining, it’s time for Pryor to get a start. Pryor is either the future of the Raiders or he isn’t the future. He’s had plenty of time to sit and learn on the bench and there’s really no reason the Raiders shouldn’t get an extended look at him on Sunday.
Richard Seymour was placed on injured reserve on Thursday, ending what is likely his last season in Oakland. Palmer is also out and definitely will not play, leaving four other players who did not participate in practice on Thursday who will need to practice on Friday to play on Sunday.
Tyvon Branch, Phillip Adams, Mike Goodson and Mike Brisiel all missed practice, according to NFL.com. The Raiders would like to get an extended look at Tony Bergstrom at right guard and might hold Brisiel out for that reason.
If Goodson were to miss the game, fullback Marcel Reece would likely see more action as a running back. If Adams were to miss the game, Brandian Ross would likely earn his first start.
Player on the Rise
When given the opportunity, Ross has played well. Ross has put together back-to-back solid performances while playing the majority of his snaps filling in for Adams at cornerback. Ross also filled in and did a good job at free safety in Week 13 against Cleveland.
With Adams iffy at this point, Ross could get his first start against Philip Rivers while drawing the coverage on Danario Alexander. It would be Ross’ biggest test to date and one that will likely give the coaching staff plenty of film to really evaluate.
Stat Trends: Offense
Losing Palmer and then failing to score an offensive touchdown really did a number on the Raiders’ offensive stats. The Raiders had been good at getting yards, but tumbled six spots in the rankings without Palmer piling up meaningless yardage when the game gets away from the Raiders.
Leinart couldn’t get Oakland’s offense on track, and that could be part of the reason the Raiders are considering starting Pryor in the season finale.
The Raiders also have a league-worst three rushing touchdowns. At least Oakland’s running game isn't simultaneously bad and prone to fumbling like many other bad running teams. It would appear that the offensive line is just a bit one-dimensional.
The only positive trend has been the pass protection. The Raiders actually moved into the upper echelon of teams in protecting the quarterback and are currently ranked ninth in the NFL in sack percentage.
Stat Trends: Defense
Despite still being one of the weaker defenses in the NFL, the Raiders have shown signs of life on that side of the ball in recent weeks. The Raiders have improved against the pass, which had made the biggest difference.
The Raiders moved from 27th to 22nd in the league in pass yards allowed and moved up a spot in sack percentage and interception percentage after sacking Cam Newton twice and intercepting him once. That’s pretty solid improvement for a group that is playing a lot of young players in the secondary.
There are still a lot of problems with Oakland’s defense, but they are starting to trend in the first direction even without much talent on that side of the ball. That’s good news if you are the defensive-minded head coach or defensive coordinator.
The Raiders aren’t going to magically play great offense with Leinart or Pryor at quarterback. The two quarterbacks are likely to have quite the opposite impact on the offense. Greg Knapp’s job status doesn’t currently appear to be in jeopardy, which clouds the entire future of the team.
The improvement on defense is enough to keep the Raiders from being fallers, but that’s the only thing. The Raiders are a team in transition, but no one is quite sure how much General Manager Reggie McKenzie is going to change in Year 2. The Raiders are a team that is stuck in neutral—for now.