Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor made a serious push for the starting job in the team's third preseason game against the Chicago Bears. Prior to the game, Matt Flynn appeared to be firmly entrenched as the starter, but he threw two interceptions and the offense stalled.
Pryor brought life to the offense by orchestrating four scoring drives and bringing the Raiders within a touchdown after being down 27-0. It was apparent to anyone watching that Pryor played a lot better than Flynn and gave the whole team a spark.
Of course, preseason performances can be deceiving and the Raiders have yet to name a starting quarterback. Just don't bet on the game tape being the reason behind the delay in naming the starter, because Pryor demonstrated that he has significantly improved in just the last couple weeks.
If Pryor can consistently perform like he did against the Bears, there is no question he should be the Raiders starting quarterback. Even if Pryor isn't consistent, he may be the best option behind a porous offensive line.
Consistency, concerns about Pryor's tape, reluctance to swallow their pride or competitive advantage Week 1 are all possible reasons to delay on naming the starter.
But after reviewing Pryor's performance against the Bears, the only one that might still be valid is consistency.
One Negative, One Positive
Before moving on to a lot of the good things Pryor did, it should be noted that his first pass sailed high of his intended target. He was lucky it wasn't intercepted. This has been an ongoing issue for Pryor and is likely to result in a lot of interceptions should he be named the starter.
Why do some of Pryor's passes sail high of his intended target? It's simple, but it's a tough habit to break. Pryor doesn't fully shift his weight to his front leg. Some might call this a failure to drive or step into the throw.
Basically, Pryor is throwing a bit flat-footed and simply using his arm and upper body to throw.
If Pryor wants to take the next step in his development, it's a problem he needs to correct. When Pryor does shift his weight, he throws more accurate passes to all levels of the field.
Despite the bad throw, Pryor made a good read on the play. The Bears were guarding the first-down marker, and Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson wisely called a play that had the two outside receivers run past the sticks to attack the area in front of the two deep safeties.
Pryor's first read was wide receiver Rod Streater to his right. Streater was coming open in the crease between the defender underneath and the safety. Pryor didn't hesitate to unload the pass, but it sailed high.
Notice on this play how wide open wide receiver Denarius Moore is on the left?
Had Pryor come off his first read, he would have seen Moore. However, that doesn't make this a bad read because Streater was his first option and he was open; Pryor had no reason to look that way.
It was a good read against the Bears starting defense, but a bad throw.
An Advantage of Arm Strength
One of Flynn's biggest limitations is arm strength. Pryor has arm strength to spare. Defenses have to respect the deep half, which also opens up the short passing game and the run.
Against the Bears starters, Pryor completed an innocent-looking si-yard pass to his tight end on first down. The Raiders had all kinds of room to operate because the defense was respecting Pryor's arm.
You can see the outside receivers splitting the zones and pulling the linebackers deep to create space. Pryor also had a receiver out right who was open should the linebacker have been draped all over his tight end.
What you can't see is the two deep safeties who had to respect the speed of the Raiders on the outside.
Pryor read the defense and did the smart thing by taking the chain-moving completion to give the Raiders a more manageable second down.
With Flynn in the game, the defense doesn't need to respect the outside receivers because of his lack of arm strength. The safeties will give less buffer, and the linebackers are going to play the underneath passes more aggressively.
Improved Decision-Making Skills
Just a couple weeks ago, Pryor was still struggling with his decision-making.
On two occasions against the Dallas Cowboys two weeks ago, Pryor threw dangerously into coverage while rolling to his right with room to run. One of those dangerous passes was intercepted, and the safety broke up the other one.
Against the Bears, Pryor didn't try to force those passes and instead used his legs to gain the yardage.
Pryor has Streater open, but throwing is more dangerous than tucking the ball and gaining the yardage on the ground on this play.
A throw on the run between two defenders—with a third coming up to crush Streater—was theoretically possible but also a tough play to make. Running is the safer play for Pryor, who is so good at running. He actually runs into Streater at the 40-yard line.
When Pryor makes smart decisions with the ball, his natural athletic ability is able to shine through. Pryor demonstrated improved decision-making skills against the Bears and the ability to learn from his mistakes.
Accuracy and Ball Placement
One of the skills a good NFL quarterback must possess is the ability to throw accurately. In the NFL, accuracy isn't just getting it into the area of the wide receiver, but putting the ball in a place where only he can catch it and maximizing yards gained after the catch.
Pryor's back-shoulder throw to tight end Nick Kasa for a touchdown in the third quarter against the Bears was one of the better throws he's made in a game. It was accurate and put in a place where only Kasa could get it.
These are the types of throws starting NFL quarterbacks must be able to make consistently.
By comparison, one of Flynn's interceptions was thrown behind wide receiver Jacoby Ford on a crossing route. The throw wasn't accurate at all and should have been thrown out in front of Ford to maximize yards after the catch. It may have been a tough throw, but it was certainly no tougher than Pryor's pass.
A lack of timing at this point of the preseason is no excuse for such a pass from Flynn, even though Ford was out with an injury for a while. It's not like Pryor had significantly more time working with Kasa.
Pryor's jump pass to Streater and 25-yard touchdown run against the Bears made his performance fun to watch, but it was the other things he did that could force the Raiders to make him the starter. Everyone knew Pryor could make plays with his feet, but it's his improvement as a passer and decision-maker that has closed the gap between him and Flynn.
It's consistency that the coaches are likely worried about, which is why the Raiders made the choice to rest Flynn's ailing arm this week and give Pryor all the first-team reps. Pryor is getting the opportunity to prove to his coaches that he can perform consistently against a tough Seattle Seahawks defense in the fourth preseason game.
If Pryor has another good game against the Seahawks, he'll likely be the starter Week 1. If he doesn't, Flynn might get the nod because the Raiders have so much invested in him, even though an inconsistent Pryor is still probably the best option.