Breaking Down Raiders QB Terrelle Pryor's Breakout Performance in Week 1
As expected, the Oakland Raiders were beaten by the Indianapolis Colts in Week 1 of the 2013 NFL Regular Season. However, they only lost by four points thanks to an unexpected performance from starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
Pryor, a third round pick of the 2011 Supplemental draft, only became the starter for the Raiders late in the preseason. The Raiders acquired Matt Flynn in the off-season, expecting him to be their starter, and Pryor only received his opportunity because Flynn failed to impress early in the preseason. That meant that expectations couldn't have been lower for the former Ohio State Buckeye.
While expectations were low, the performance in a vacuum will have revitalised a fan base that has been engulfed in negativity during recent times.
Dennis Allen, Greg Olsen and the rest of the Raiders coaching staff didn't look to hide Pryor. After falling behind by 14 points in the second quarter, they didn't really have much choice, but that doesn't change the fact that Pryor attempted 29 passes, completing 19 for 217 yards, with a further 112 rushing yards coming on 13 carries.
At Ohio State, Pryor was recognised for his overwhelming athleticism. In today's NFL, athleticism at the quarterback position is celebrated maybe more than ever. Even though Pryor wasn't making huge plays like Colin Kaepernick from the read-option, he did show off that athleticism early on against the Colts.
This play comes from the Raiders' opening drive, as they face a third and seven.
Pryor has three receivers to the right side of the formation, with just one to the left. Those three receivers are left with just three defensive backs, as the Colts rotate the safety to that side of the field across the formation at the snap. That safety joins two other defensive backs who are too far away to make a play on any quick pass to the right side of the field.
Denarius Moore, the wide receiver to the top of the screen, had motioned in so that he starts the play behind Rod Streater. This pushes both defensive backs into off coverage, meaning that the opportunity for a free release for one of his receivers should be there.
Pryor immediately looks to this area of the field as he knows Denarius Moore is releasing inside and should have an opportunity to make a reception in space. However, while the Colts brought their safety from that side of the field across the formation, they brought a linebacker underneath towards Moore.
The Colts are trying to take advantage of Pryor's lack of experience. The linebacker running underneath is coming from a position that should allow him to undercut any attempted pass towards Moore for the interception. It's the type of play that works best against younger, less experienced quarterbacks.
Almost instantly, Pryor comes off of his first read and finds his other receiver running a shallow crossing route. His vision is impaired by the linebacker underneath, who was initially in coverage or spying the quarterback, but began to work towards Pryor as he turned back to find his second read.
Pryor has an opportunity to throw the ball over the incoming defender, but the throw wouldn't go for a first down and could easily result in a turnover if he wasn't perfect with his touch.
This is where Pryor's athleticism comes into play. He has enough acceleration and speed to get around the incoming edge rusher, giving him some time to look back down the field. At this point, he knows he cannot rush for the first down and because of the situation, he knows he needs to push the ball down the field.
Streater keeps working in his route and comes back towards the quarterback to give him an outlet. Pryor throws the ball from a terrible body position, as he jumps to release it, but he has enough arm strength to get the ball out there and Streater has enough separation to account for any lacking accuracy.
Pryor's ability to extend plays with his athleticism while still keeping his eyes downfield was very impressive. He may not be on the level of Russell Wilson or Ben Roethlisberger just yet, but his poise and intelligence during those plays reflects well on his potential over the long-term.
On the above play, Pryor was able to escape to one side and make a routine throw from a very unorthodox body position. Early on in the fourth quarter, he converted a third and 10 after initially hanging in the pocket and checking on multiple receivers, before evading a pass rush from the edge to escape in to one flat.
When he wasn't comfortable on that side of the field, he reversed into the other flat, using his speed to get passed three defenders. Once in the other flat, he hit Rod Streater with a perfect pass as the receiver ran a crossing route at the first down marker.
There will be other athletes who can mimic what Pryor offers athletically, but if he can consistently show off that composure while extending plays against better defenses, he offers the Raiders something that is very rare.
Pryor's longest passing play statistically came on a blown coverage from the Colts, but his own ability was the protagonist for other big passing plays from the pocket too.
On fourth and 9, down by four with less than two minutes to play, the Raiders needed one of those plays.
The Raiders came out with a running back and tight end to the left of the quarterback, one receiver to that side of the formation and two stacked receivers to the top of the screen. The Colts were showing man coverage, with two linebackers threatening to blitz either side of the center.
Five defenders rush the quarterback, with one linebacker covering Darren McFadden as he releases into his route. This gives Pryor time to survey the field.
While the Raiders' offensive line picked up the blitz, Cory Redding is able to push Mike Brisel back into Pryor as he looks to release the ball. This prevents Pryor from stepping into his throw and once again means he is throwing from what should be an uncomfortable body position.
Pryor's mechanics aren't perfect, which somewhat worked in his favour during this game because he was able to throw some perfect passes from these awkward positions.
On this play, he hit Denarius Moore in stride, allowing him to not only convert for a first down, but also gain an extra 12 yards with his running ability. Had Pryor underthrown or overthrown him slightly, he would not have had the opportunity to continue down the field.
That ability to throw from uncomfortable positions and his surprisingly quick recognition at the snap was what really stood out for Pryor.
On his touchdown to Denarius Moore, he quickly recognised the Colts' blitz before throwing a perfect pass for Moore to catch away from the defender. Most importantly, on this play Pryor let the ball go before Moore was open and released the pass as soon as he got to the bottom of his drop. There was no hesitation in his play.
This is something that the young quarterback showed at different times during the game.
Despite those positives, Pryor did throw two interceptions during the game.
His first interception came early in the first quarter, as he forced a pass down the sideline while under pressure in the pocket. The offensive line was pushed into him so he couldn't step into the throw, meaning the ball floated to the defender opposed to going over him for the receiver in the endzone.
The second interception was the more crucial one however.
On third and 24, the game was on the line for the Raiders as they were down by four with just 31 seconds left. The Colts are playing the situation and not looking to mask their intentions. Each of the members of their secondary are very deep off the line, with the linebackers underneath also dropping into relatively deep positions.
The Raiders have three wide receivers to the right side of the formation and one to the left. Darren McFadden remains in the backfield, which has drawn the linebacker to that side of the field closer to the line of scrimmage.
The Colts drop into a zone with quarters deep(the field is split into four pieces and each defender has one section) with three linebackers dropping so that they are in front of them. At the top of his drop, Pryor is under no pressure and has time to read the field.
With the adrenaline likely flowing, Pryor doesn't control himself and show the poise he had previously. The outside linebacker to the top of the screen shifted inside when the outside receiver ran passed him, meaning that the receiver running the deep out should come free if Pryor holds onto the ball for a moment or two more before throwing with anticipation.
Instead, Pryor forces the ball to the receiver running up the seam, showing no regard for the safety coming across from the middle. The result is an easy interception for Antoine Bethea of the Colts.
Pryor doesn't have a good option here, because the deep safety is coming across with the receiver running the deep out, but to give his offense a chance of converting, he cannot throw the pass he did. The only option is the deep out, where he would need to throw a pinpoint pass to even have a chance.
Whether those kinds of plays linger or leave will be determined by how Pryor continues his development on the field. Despite his play against the Colts' defense, a defense that is by no means an impressive unit, Pryor still needs to prove himself over the long term as a passer.
One thing that he doesn't need to prove is his ability to make plays with his feet.
Pryor averaged 8.6 yards per carry and carried the ball an incredible 13 times. The highlight of his 112 yard day came early in the second quarter, when he escaped for a 29 yard gain.
At the top of his drop, nothing came free for Pryor down the field. Instead of hanging in the pocket and waiting for a receiver to come free, the young quarterback used his speed to find a running lane right down the center of the field.
Linebacker Jerrell Freeman was in a position to make a play on Pryor after a few yards, but Pryor dipped his shoulder and accelerated right passed him further into the secondary. Pryor wasn't touched until the very end of his run.
Expectations should be quelled for the young quarterback moving forward, because of the level of competition he faced in Week 1. However, considering how he entered the season, Pryor has already surpassed anything anyone expected of him.
You can follow Cian Fahey on twitter @Cianaf
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