Although they did not come away with a win, the Oakland Raiders’ showing this past Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, led in large part by quarterback Terrelle Pryor, was impressive to say the least.
After another offseason of roster rebuilding, and a much needed one at that, little was expected from this silver and black team.
In fact, it had become extremely common in the vast majority of early 2014 draft projections to have the Raiders selecting at No. 1 overall, with the league’s worst record.
While the Raiders are far from a Super Bowl contender, and still a ways away from competing for a playoff spot as well, Sunday’s performance against a playoff caliber team like the Colts could very well have them on track to be one of the NFL’s surprise teams in 2013.
Since taking over the reins of the organization, general manager Reggie McKenzie’s efforts to get the team out of an unprecedented salary cap situation resulted in many highly-paid, but key players, being released and traded.
Yes, the roster’s overall talent level took a significant hit as a result, but McKenzie was able to make a number of key acquisitions during this past offseason through both free agency signings and what was really his first full draft.
Looking at the additions, even considering some of the talent lost in the process, the argument can be made that the Raiders managed to upgrade in what have been several problem positions in recent seasons.
This seems to be the case most evidently on the defensive side of the ball, and especially so in the linebacker corps and the secondary.
Adding a completely new starting group of veterans at linebacker in Nick Roach, Kevin Burnett and Kaluka Maiava, with rookie Sio Moore rotating in for the time being, gives the unit much more balance and versatility than seen in years past.
Having Tracy Porter, Mike Jenkins and Charles Woodson added to the secondary’s starting group with Tyvon Branch, increases the back end’s ability in pass coverage, thus allowing for more exotic blitz scheming up front.
Sunday’s contest with the Colts showcased the upgrades made within both of these position groups, and especially so in what was a great second half for the defense overall.
Not to be outdone, the Raiders’ defensive line, a unit that has likely had more questions than any other heading into this season, stepped up and played at a fairly high mark.
While the Colts do have their share of concerns on the offensive line, there were legitimate questions about whether the Raiders would be able to push the pocket at all this season after losing the likes of Richard Seymour, Tommy Kelly and Desmond Bryant up front.
With a new starting line of Lamarr Houston, Vance Walker, Pat Sims and Jason Hunter, the Raiders actually did quite well to keep Andrew Luck under pressure, keeping the offense from getting into rhythm for a good portion of the game.
Now, whether the Colts offense of 2012 will be equaled or exceeded in 2013 remains to be seen. However, all indications are that Luck will continue to grow into one of the league’s premiere quarterbacks, thus making the Raiders’ defensive performance against him all the more impressive.
To complement the effort put forth by the defense, the Raiders’ offense provided a spark of its own, mostly coming from the play of quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
Although he is still developing as a passer, Pryor’s elite athletic ability forces opposing defenses to defend in ways they may not normally do.
Whether it comes on designed running plays or in drop-back passing situations, the mere threat of Pryor making plays with his legs opens up a number of different things for the Raiders offense overall.
Pryor’s performance against the Colts, albeit with a few key turnovers, has certainly earned him the starting quarterback job moving forward. It is his consistent ability to turn a negative play into a significant gain that allows the Raiders offense to sustain drives at a much higher rate than they otherwise would.
If the offensive line can come together and find more success opening lanes for Darren McFadden in the running game, this offense will become that much more dangerous with Pryor at quarterback.
Overall, it is certain that the Raiders’ Week 1 performance, despite coming in a losing effort, opened some eyes around the league.
The defense showed some significant ability against no slouch of an offensive opponent, and the halftime adjustments made by the coaching staff on that side of the ball are due a lot of credit.
Offensively, Terrelle Pryor has continued to develop into a true dual-threat quarterback, and he should only continue upon that improvement with the more experience he gains leading this offense.
At this point, it is important to remember that it has only been one game, and in the NFL, anything can happen.
Having said that, in a game where many expected them to be dominated by a playoff team like the Colts, the Raiders really showed some promise.
Should they avoid a let-down game in Week 2 against Jacksonville, and continue to build on Sunday’s performance with consistently similar efforts, the Oakland Raiders could very well turn out to be one of the NFL’s biggest surprise teams of the 2013 season.