The Oakland Raiders are not a very good football team, and that was perfectly clear in the first half of a 34-26 loss to the Chicago Bears at home on Friday night. The first-team defense was routinely gouged, but the bigger issue was the first-team offense.
Starting quarterback Matt Flynn couldn’t get anything going for the Raiders, completing just 3-of-6 passes for 19 yards and two interceptions. When Terrelle Pryor came in, he provided a spark, leading the Raiders to 20 unanswered points after the team fell behind 27-0.
The Raiders now have no choice but to make Pryor the starting quarterback in Week 1. While it’s rather unusual to make such a switch after the third preseason game, Oakland isn't exactly dealing with a normal situation.
Flynn was brought in to be the starter, but his lack of arm strength left the door cracked for Pryor to get playing time in certain packages. Flynn’s poor performance on Friday swung the door wide open, and all Pryor had to do was walk through it.
Instead, Pryor sprinted through the open door by completing 7-of-9 passes for 93 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 37 yards and a touchdown on four carries. Pryor’s performance came primarily against the Bears’ second-string defense, but he still played significantly better than Flynn.
The offense was much more productive with Pryor at quarterback because he could escape the constant pressure that Flynn could not. Pryor’s strong arm also enabled him to find receivers open down the field, something Flynn has been unable to do. Whether the defense rallied behind Pryor or simply fed off the energy of the fans isn’t clear, but it also played better with Pryor at quarterback.
For Flynn to make sense for the talent-deprived roster in Oakland, he needed to be better than advertised. Flynn was billed as the quarterback who made good decisions and was accurate on short- and intermediate-level throws. So far this preseason, Flynn hasn’t been accurate or smart with the ball.
It’s not all Flynn’s fault; the Raiders simply have more problems than he can solve. The Raiders offensive line has been atrocious, and the team recently lost its best blocker in left tackle Jared Veldheer for an extended period with a torn triceps. Flynn has been pressured so quickly this preseason by opposing defenses, he hasn’t really had a chance to get past his first read.
The other problem is that the Raiders offensive personnel aren’t a great fit for a short-passing offense. Flynn and his receivers need to read the defense the same way so he can get the ball out quickly and avoid the rush. One of Flynn’s two interceptions was a quick throw in the general direction of Denarius Moore that appeared to be a miscommunication between the two.
If Flynn and his receivers aren’t on the same page by now, they might never be. The Raiders had the same problem last year with Carson Palmer at quarterback in former offensive coordinator Greg Knapp’s West Coast offense, but the team didn’t make wholesale changes to the passing offense because both Flynn and Pryor were familiar with it.
After three preseason games, the evidence can no longer be ignored. Pryor is still going to take his lumps, but his ability to evade pressure and throw the ball down the field to receivers who pull down jump balls gives the Raiders the best chance to win a few games in 2013.
Pryor can use his legs when plays break down, which gives the Raiders the ability to get positive yards even when his receivers aren’t getting open or the offensive line can’t block anyone. Pryor can also run the read-option, which should help the running game.
“What I want to look at it is, who gives us the best chance to move the ball down the field and score points,” head coach Dennis Allen said after the game, via the team's website. “And what combination of things gives us the best chance to move the ball down the field and score points.”
The answer is clearly Terrelle Pryor, and for the first time since trading for Flynn, the Raiders actually appear open to giving him the job.