With the Oakland Raiders finally back in action, I debut my new, weekly postgame feature: Grades and Accolades.
Every game this season will have its share of notable performances and emerging or continuing team trends, and I aim to break them down for fans both casual and hardcore. I invite readers to give me their input over the coming weeks so I can make this feature as appealing and as useful as possible.
Here's my assessment after Friday's 19-16 Oakland win over the Dallas Cowboys at O.Co Coliseum.
Matt Flynn (QB): B-
With all of the media focus this offseason on who, if anyone, will step up as a potential franchise quarterback, it's fitting that I start with (and stress) the quarterback position and address each candidate in turn.
Fortunately, head coach Dennis Allen opted to play all four contenders on Friday, and their progress (or lack thereof) was apparent.
The presumptive starter for Week 1 of the regular season, Flynn showed that, at the least, he'll be able to lead the team on scoring drives.
With the team visibly dedicated to running the ball, Flynn's propensity to show short, accurate passes was enough to keep the chains moving. On the team's first scoring drive—a nice, 12-play, seven-minute jaunt—he hit top receivers Denarius Moore and Rod Streater for third-down conversions.
Flynn's grade is still somewhat low based on (1) limited playing time and (2) a ghastly fumble on his first drive, which gave the Cowboys excellent field position.
Terrelle Pryor (QB): B+
Most recently, I've been down on Pryor's future with Oakland's new regime, based in part on his seemingly incompatible skill set in the team's West Coast offense.
I hereby withdraw my hater ways; I'm back on the "Hire Pryor" bandwagon.
Pryor's improvement from last season is readily apparent, and Friday night it went beyond his solid statistics (6-of-10, 88 yards; three carries, 31 yards). The offense just simmers with big-play potential with Pryor in the backfield. As we saw at times vs. Dallas, his elite running ability created the potential for fantastic gains on play-action plays.
Yes, his decision-making is still suspect. He definitely forced a couple of passes (including an end-zone interception) where a run would have yielded a first down or more.
But all of a sudden, with Allen now having again stated that Pryor will see meaningful playing time this season in special packages, per Raiders.com, his future in Oakland seems bright once more.
Matt McGloin (QB): B
McGloin, undrafted out of Penn State, has outshone fourth-round pick Tyler Wilson in the contest for the team's third (and possibly final) quarterback spot, per Vic Tafur of The San Francisco Chronicle.
It was easy to see why Friday night: McGloin, after a shaky start, showed much greater poise and accuracy than his higher-touted competitor.
McGloin and rookie receiver Brice Butler (B+) put on a show during one third-quarter drive, connecting on two long pass plays, the last for the Raiders' go-ahead touchdown.
Tyler Wilson (QB): C-
Oof. Not the way to show the team it's made a mistake in organizing the depth chart.
Lauded out of Arkansas for his ability to stand in the pocket and deliver under pressure, Wilson looked frazzled, taking a sack on his first snap and generally missing easy passes over essentially two drives.
Perhaps the biggest positive was that he got to kneel the ball at the end of the game so that he got the feeling of closing out a win.
It's fair to question whether the team's possible motivational ploy is costing Wilson the playing time and emotional support he needs most of all.
Another question (for another time, another post): Given Pryor's and McGloin's play, might the team be fine with moving on from a player thought only three months ago to be its signal-caller of the future?
Sio Moore (LB): B+
All right: time to address the defense for a bit. The unit as a whole played quite well for its first game situation while incorporating loads of new starters.
A clear highlight was Oakland's third-round pick out of Connecticut.
Moore got the team's only sack, putting a nice hit on Dallas' new $100 million quarterback, Tony Romo.
Moore's pass-rushing ability will be key for a unit that, while fairly blitz-happy last night, seems likely to rush only four or five players on most passing downs.
1. The team's dedication to improve its special teams also showed Friday night and meant the difference between winning and losing.
The Raiders got a huge blocked field goal in the first quarter. Then, in the fourth, they capitalized on a 51-yard kickoff return by Greg Jenkins and a blocked punt five plays later to rescue Wilson and get the decisive three points on the board.
By the way, kicker Sebastian Janikowski should be a fantasy beast this season if Oakland's proclivity for three-point scores keeps up.
Newly fit and trim, and enjoying a new, four-year contract extension, he booted a 51-yard field goal in the first that made me think of this video for some reason.
2. It was a welcome sight to see the Raiders actually commit to the run. While the team failed to get many long gains out of top backs Darren McFadden, Rashad Jennings and Latavius Murray, all three consistently got three to four yards on first and second down, putting the team in many manageable third-and-short situations.
Oakland finished with 32 carries compared to 28 passes, and in a one-score game, that sort of balance allowed the team to control the clock and dictate the final two minutes.
In general, that strategy would be wisest for this Raiders team. It's always best to keep one's defense off the field—the longer, the better.
3. Not to end on an awkward or semi-traitorous note, but, good god, Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant is going to be a handful this season.
Although his numbers (three receptions, 55 yards) wouldn't necessarily indicate it, his ability to slice past defenders, find open space and run after the catch may be unmatched in today's NFL.