For four games Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor looked like the future at the position for the team. With his stupefying athleticism and improved passing, Pryor gave the Raider Nation some hope for the season and the future.
Unfortunately, Pryor’s development hit a brick wall against the Chiefs in Kansas City. Pryor was sacked a whopping 10 times and hasn’t seemed the same since. After three more poor passing performances, an injured knee forced Pryor to the bench in favor of undrafted rookie Matt McGloin.
McGloin will make his third start for the Raiders on Thanksgiving, but is the team making the right decision to go with him now that Pryor is relatively healthy? The Raiders obviously feel like McGloin gives them the best chance to win, but that doesn’t mean they are correct.
There is a lot that goes into playing the quarterback position. The Raiders aren’t basing their decision on the same factors as everyone else because they are the only ones who know how the two are doing in the meeting room—an important factor for quarterbacks.
Athletically, Pryor and McGloin are in totally different classes. Pryor is one of the better athletes you will ever see on the football field, while McGloin wasn’t even impressive enough to get drafted. Pryor has an obvious advantage, but he’s the one sitting on the bench.
A Production-Based Business
When announcing that McGloin would start last week, head coach Dennis Allen said football is a “production-based business." The implication was that McGloin’s performance against Houston was a big reason he got the start against the Tennessee Titans last week.
McGloin’s second performance wasn’t nearly as good as his three-touchdown performance in his first career start—at least not in the traditional statistical sense. Not only did the Raiders lose, but McGloin threw an interception and only one touchdown.
Allen announced that McGloin would start Thursday after Sunday’s game, suggesting that the decision had already been made. It makes sense given the short week, even if McGloin had struggled more than he did.
Pryor simply wasn’t producing through the air even when he was healthy. McGloin came in and produced with his arm, even though he clearly isn’t as gifted as Pryor athletically.
Production can be measured in many ways. There are some entities that still judge quarterbacks based on wins, as if they have total control over everything that happens on the field.
For the purposes of comparing Pryor and McGloin, we’ll call production equal to team offensive points scored and ESPN’s QBR. Scoring is the goal in the NFL, so both metrics should be based heavy on points.
Through two games, McGloin has led the Raiders to an average of 23.5 points per game with a QBR of 59.9. On the season, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has a QBR of 58.5, and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has a QBR of 58.2.
McGloin’s two games are a small sample. If Pryor has taught us anything, it’s not to trust a couple games of production. Pryor’s best two-game stretch was actually a little better than McGloin’s last two games according to QBR.
Pryor’s eight-game sample is quite a bit larger than McGloin’s, and he has a QBR of just 30.7, 34th in the NFL out of 38 qualified passers. The only quarterbacks ESPN’s QBR has worse are Chad Henne, Brandon Weeden, Geno Smith and Josh Freeman.
The Raiders have had up-and-down quarterback play all season, but McGloin has brought some stability to the production. The question that’s hard to answer is if the Raiders need Pryor’s upside to win games, something we may find out over the next couple weeks.
So you don’t buy into the whole QBR thing? That’s OK. There’s always the classic points scored to help us out. With Pryor at quarterback, the Raiders have scored an average of 18.1 points on offense (the Raiders have one defensive touchdown), giving McGloin the edge by 5.4 points per game.
Of course, points don’t tell us anything about the defenses the two quarterbacks have faced. It wouldn’t be fair to give one quarterback credit for beating up on bad defense and punish the other for playing a tough defense.
Every one of Oakland’s opponents has played 10 games against teams that were not the Raiders. Although not perfect, we can determine if the Raiders are scoring more, less or about the same as everyone else against that particular defense.
On average, the Raiders have scored 6.4 fewer points against their opponents than the rest of the NFL with Pryor at quarterback. With McGloin under center, the Raiders have scored just 0.85 fewer points than the rest of the NFL.
Pryor’s best two-game stretch was actually worse than McGloin’s in points scored but not by much. Against the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers, the Raiders scored just 1.05 fewer points than the rest of the NFL against those teams on average.
From a statistical point of view, McGloin is superior to Pryor. At worst, defenses adjust to him like they did Pryor, and the team goes back to Pryor as the starter.
While Pryor has been under the microscope all season and his regression is already well-documented, the same can’t be said for McGloin. Last week, McGloin defied the odds with his performance on the road in his first NFL start, and everyone was anxious to see how he would do in his second start.
As you might expect, McGloin had some growing pains against a good secondary in his second start, but he also didn’t get a lot of help from the wide receivers. The Raiders dropped just about every contested ball thrown their way, which is tough against a good man-to-man coverage team like the Titans.
Trailing by four points in the fourth quarter, the Raiders picked up just two yards on a pass to fullback Jamize Olawale, but it could have been so much more. CBS analyst Rich Gannon briefly highlighted the play on the broadcast.
McGloin is going to throw it to Olawale, but by the time the ball arrives there are two defenders there to bring him down. Gannon pointed out that fullback Marcel Reece was wide open on the other side of the field and would only need to beat one guy to make it a big play.
What Gannon didn’t point out was that McGloin’s initial read was to his right. Check out the two receivers circled in red. It’s safe to say this isn’t how offensive coordinator Greg Olson drew the play up.
McGloin’s big problem was third down; the Raiders converted just 3-of-10 on the afternoon. Oakland’s receivers couldn’t get much separation for Tennessee’s cornerbacks, and McGloin’s best opportunities were usually to hit a running back or fullback coming out of the backfield. When the Titans were able to get a good pass rush or cover the backs, McGloin didn’t have much of an opportunity to be successful.
The one truly baffling play McGloin made was on his interception. It’s not uncommon for rookies to make some mistakes, but McGloin’s interception is certainly a red flag. It’s not as if McGloin was tricked by the coverage; he simply had predetermined where he was going with the ball, and the Titans were ready.
McGloin has both a checkdown option and a receiver crossing into the clear. All McGloin has to do is step up into the pocket to make the stick throw or flick it underneath. McGloin did neither, and it turned into three points for the Titans.
There is no doubt that McGloin should be the starter going forward, but he still has plenty of growing to do at the position. McGloin played pretty well against the Titans, and it was at least consistent with how he performed against the Texans.
Outside of a missed opportunity to check down and the interception, McGloin was pretty good against the Titans. Unfortunately for the Raiders, the receivers struggled, and it was apparent they really missed Denarius Moore.
McGloin will look to rebound on Thursday night, but the Raiders would be wise to try to get Pryor involved with his own special package of plays. Rashad Jennings has been running the ball well, so the Raiders don’t need to put Pryor out there to be effective on the ground.