Things were ugly for the Oakland Raiders on Monday night as they got blown out by Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos, but it wasn't all bad for the Silver and Black. Oakland's starting quarterback, Terrelle Pryor, emerged from the game with the best performance of his young career, even though he also sustained a concussion.
Pryor completed 67.9 percent of his passes for 281 yards and a touchdown, adding 36 yards rushing on four carries. It was the first time Pryor accumulated 300 total yards with at least one touchdown without turning the ball over. Maybe for the first time, Pryor actually looked like the future at the quarterback position for the Raiders because of what he was able to do with his arm and not just his legs.
However, since Pryor did most of his damage as a passer playing from down multiple scores, there's a risk that his performance was fool's gold. The only way to really know if Pryor's performance was as good as the stats seem to indicate is to review the coaches' film.
Unfortunately, Pryor's performance wasn't nearly as impressive after second review. It may have still been a step in the right direction, but it was more of a baby step than a quantum leap.
There are only 13 games left this season, and beyond that, there are no guarantees for Pryor. If Pryor can continue to progress for 13 more games, he might get where he needs to be. The review of his film indicates that he'll take a few steps back, so a couple giant steps forward at some point are going to be necessary.
Reading the Defense
One of the things Pryor was given credit for on Monday night was staying in the pocket and going through his progressions. That's what good NFL quarterbacks can do, so this seemed like a very positive sign for him.
However, just because Pryor was going through his progressions and reading the defense doesn't mean he was doing it well. There's a big difference between doing something and doing it well.
The Broncos wanted Pryor to stay in the pocket and beat them with his arm. Pryor has yet to prove that he can beat a defense consistently through the air, so the Broncos decided to take their chances.
A great example of a play that looked way different on the broadcast than on coaches' film was on a completion to Rod Streater for seven yards where Pryor was flushed out to his right and threw on the run while being hit. What you may not realize is that Pryor was actually making up for a poor read of the defense.
Pryor's first read was to his right, but he missed the wide-open Streater, who only had one defender between him and a big gain. The defender was playing soft coverage, and a quick pass would have been a solid gain or better.
Instead, Pryor shifted his eyes to the other side of the field where all of his receivers were covered. By this time, Denver's pass rush was bearing down on him and he attempted to escape to his right. The Broncos chased down Pryor and forced him to make an awkward off-balance throw to Streater, who had to go up and get the pass.
By the time Pryor had started rolling to his right, the defense had converged on Streater. It was a bad read and a high, dangerous throw that still resulted in a seven-yard gain.
The Raiders were able to get positive yards on the play, but that only demonstrates how Pryor can make up for his own deficiencies. A bad read and a high, dangerous throw are going to result in a negative play more often than a positive one.
One Step Forward, One Step Back
Everyone knows that Pryor's greatest asset is his legs, but he only rushed four times against the Broncos for 36 yards, and 23 of those yards came on a single carry. The Broncos made an effort to force Pryor to beat them through the air instead of on the ground.
On a designed screen play to Darren McFadden, Pryor demonstrated an improved decision-making ability. Pryor realized that a throw would only get McFadden crushed by a safety, meaning he had to create with his own feet.
McFadden realized that Pryor wasn't going to be throwing him the ball and turned himself into a blocker while the offensive linemen continued to move to the second level to make screen blocks. Pryor had a chance to get big yardage by taking off around the right end if he got a block of two, but he decided to cut back into the teeth of the defense and was easily sacked by the pursuing defenders.
The cutback lane was certainly enticing, but Pryor's vision failed him on this running play. Pryor made the smart decision not to throw the pass followed by a poor decision to try to cutback instead of follow his blockers and get positive yardage.
Pryor's biggest weapon is his legs, especially when his team isn't executing, and he needs to take advantage when the defense doesn't have him corralled in the pocket. Pryor was able to demonstrate his improved decision making in the passing game, but almost at the expense of using his legs.
One of the things that teams are doing to stop running quarterbacks this year is simply playing defense with a single-high safety. The strong safety plays closer to the line of scrimmage and eliminates the numbers advantage the offense gains with a running threat at quarterback.
Against the Broncos, Pryor was inconsistent beating single-high safety looks. On one occasion, Pryor hit Denarius Moore for a 10-yard gain but missed a wide-open Streater in the center of the field. That doesn't make it a bad play, but he can certainly be better.
Near the end of the first half, Pryor did take advantage of the single-high safety with an inside breaking route by Brice Butler. Unfortunately, Pryor's throw wasn't great, and Butler had to slide down at the 50 to make the catch.
The result of the next play was a sack, as the Raiders opted not to kick the 67-yard field goal as time expired. Pryor's ball placement on deeper routes leaves a lot to be desired, and a lot of that has to do with his erratic mechanics.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Pryor leads the league in completion percentage when throwing from the pocket in 2.5 seconds or less. When Pryor doesn't have pressure and knows where to go with the ball, then he keeps his feet under him and throws accurate passes.
Pryor got away with plenty of risky throws against the Broncos, but that's not guaranteed to continue. Pryor hasn't been burned by his risky throws as much as you would expect, so either he has an uncanny ability to avoid turnovers while taking risks or more turnovers are coming.
Pryor's development continues to be encouraging, but he still has a long way to go. Three games is a small sample size, and any anointing of Pryor as the quarterback of the future in Oakland should wait.
I had hoped to find that Pryor was proving everyone wrong, but the coaches' film just didn't support that hypothesis. He still needs to lean on his legs to be successful because there are so many other areas of his game that still need to be cleaned up.
Pryor can win games for the Raiders, but he's still a work in progress, and there's no way to predict how things will play out over the next 14 weeks. At least we get to watch as Pryor works out all the kinks, because there are few quarterbacks in the league that are more physically talented and genuinely fun to watch.