The fourth preseason game is usually the worst one for fans because the starters don't play more than a series. At best, a couple of jobs on the 53-man roster are still open going into the final preseason game, and the rest of the players are vying for a spot on the practice squad or with other teams.
So it's rare when a team goes into the last exhibition game without knowing who its starting quarterback is for Week 1. Terrelle Pryor got the start on Thursday in Seattle with the chance to earn the starting job, but did he do enough or will the Oakland Raiders go back to Matt Flynn?
The box score would tell you Pryor struggled, going 3-of-8 for 31 yards and one interception. Reviewing the film would be a little more favorable for Pryor, but he certainly didn't make the decision easy for his coaches.
The sad reality is that neither Pryor nor Flynn have done enough to earn the starting job this preseason, but one of them has to start. Given the Raiders' issues on the offensive line, starting Pryor and seeing how he can develop makes sense. The decision was likely already made before the Raiders even took the field in Seattle.
As crazy as it sounds, Pryor will get the starting job strictly because of his running ability, and the Raiders—like everyone—already knew he could run. Pryor's 25-yard run on 3rd-and-7 from the Seattle 45-yard line to set up a field goal on the Raiders' second drive is an example of the type of play that likely sealed the deal for Oakland's coaches.
Pryor rushed three times for 48 yards, and the Raiders aren't going to discourage him from using his greatest asset. If the Raiders are going to be successful with Pryor at quarterback, they need him to be effective running the ball. However, running the ball will get considerably harder when defenses can scheme against Pryor, and the Raiders will have to figure out how to capitalize with running back Darren McFadden or in the passing game.
One thing is pretty clear at this point: Putting Flynn behind an offensive line with a rookie left tackle as raw as Menelik Watson is reckless. The offensive line is one of the biggest weaknesses on the team, and Flynn needs protection to be effective. The Raiders were pushed in the direction of Pryor when left tackle Jared Veldheer tore his triceps and might be lucky that it happened before the regular season.
Losing Veldheer actually weakened four of the five positions on the Raiders' offensive line, highlighting the extreme lack of depth on the team. Watson had to move from right tackle to left tackle, leaving Khalif Barnes to start at right tackle instead of moving to left guard. Lucas Nix had to rotate over to right guard, ending his competition with Tony Bergstrom at left guard.
Pryor's ability to escape pressure gives the Raiders a fighting chance, even if he still needs work as a passer—and he does. Pryor's interception came on first down and was underthrown because he hesitated and threw it off his back foot. Jacoby Ford did have a step on the defender, but Pryor had a tight end wide open for a big gain had he not tried to go over the top.
Pryor also threw a jump pass that was completed to tight end Jeron Mastrud, but that isn't the type of thing you want to see from your starting quarterback. Pryor may keep the Raiders competitive some weeks with his athleticism, but they're also going to lose games because he turns the ball over.
The good news for whoever earns the starting job is that Watson actually held up well at left tackle in his first start. Defenses will surely test the raw rookie from Florida State, but his athleticism gives him the edge to start Week 1. The alternative is Alex Barron, who was getting beaten badly by Seattle's second- and third-team defensive ends.
The Raiders had to get a good look at Pryor at some point this season, and it makes sense to do that now, with Veldheer out and Watson learning. If Pryor struggles, the Raiders can always go back to Flynn once Veldheer returns and Watson gets more experience. It's not really fair to expect Flynn to have any success behind this offensive line with fans calling for the backup.
Head coach Dennis Allen told the media after the game he knows who is starting Week 1, but isn't saying for competitive reasons. It would be a shock based on all the rhetoric of the past week, when the competition suddenly was turned upside down in Pryor's favor, that Allen would stick with Flynn.
The decision to start Pryor in Week 1 was likely made after his performance last week, and the final preseason game was just to get him additional reps with the first-team offense. Otherwise, wouldn't the team want to review the tape on Pryor?
In just about every way, Pryor performed better than Flynn. One statistic that factors in attempts, yards, touchdowns, interceptions and sacks is adjusted net yards per pass attempt (ANY/A). It's based on the work of Chase Stuart and is incorporated into the stats over at Pro-Football-Reference.com.
Pryor's ANY/A this preseason was 5.76 compared to Flynn's 2.58. Pryor's number is respectable, but Flynn's number is atrocious. It's tough to put too much stock in preseason stats, but these numbers are not even close.
The things that ANY/A doesn't account for are fumbles and the running game, but Pryor has the clear advantage in those areas as well. Pryor had one fumble to Flynn's two and 131 rushing yards and a touchdown on 14 carries to Flynn's four carries for 19 yards.
In total, Pryor generated 11.4 yards per play with his arm and legs to Flynn's 8.7 yards. When it comes to putting points on the board, Pryor was also vastly superior, with the offense scoring 32 points on 14 drives with Pryor under center compared to 10 points on 13 drives with Flynn.
No matter how you slice it, Pryor performed better than Flynn this preseason. Until the offensive line improves, Pryor gives the Raiders the best chance to win.