Whatever's Wrong with the Oakland Raiders, It's Not Terrelle Pryor

Ty Schalter@tyschalterNFL National Lead WriterSeptember 24, 2013

On Monday Night Football, the Oakland Raiders traveled to Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Everyone knew what was waiting for them there: a Denver Broncos blowout.

The media knew it was coming, and all 12 Bleacher Report NFL experts picked the Broncos. The bookies in Vegas knew it, too. Per VegasInsider.com, the Raiders were 16.5-point underdogs at kickoff. Surely, the players and coaches for both teams knew it...

...except Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 23:   Terrelle Pryor #2 of the Oakland Raiders scrambles against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on September 23, 2013 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Pryor went 19-of-28 for 281 yards and a touchdown, with no interceptions. His 67.9 percent completion rate and 10.0 average yards per attempt would have been efficient and effective enough to top almost any quarterback on almost any day...

...except Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.

Manning went a ludicrous 32-of-37 for 374 yards and three scores, and running backs Ronnie Hillman, Montee Ball and Knowshon Moreno added 166 yards on the ground. They delivered the expected 16-point beatdown; the Broncos won 37-21.

The Raiders have now fallen to 1-2 and have major concerns in every phase of the game. It's hard to see them winning many more games, but this season is already a smashing success, as it seems they've found their quarterback.

Desperately Seeking a Signal-Caller

The Raiders haven't had consistent quarterback play since Rich Gannon hung 'em up in 2004. They haven't developed a rookie quarterback into a consistent, quality starter since Ken Stabler in the 1970s.

During the eight seasons between Gannon and Pryor, the list of quarterbacks who started for the Raiders is long and cringe-worthy.

Per Pro-Football-Reference.com, Kerry Collins, Marques Tuiasosopo, Andrew Walter, Aaron Brooks, Josh McCown, Daunte Culpepper, JaMarcus Russell, Bruce Gradkowski, Charlie Frye, Kyle Boller, Jason Campbell and Carson Palmer all started at least one game for the Raiders between 2004 and 2013.

It's no coincidence the Raiders haven't made the playoffs since their quarterback merry-go-round started spinning. In today's pass-first NFL, consistent, quality quarterback play isn't just an advantage—it's a necessity. 

In case there were any doubts about that, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco ranked in the teens (or lower) in every passing statistic tracked by Pro-Football-Reference.com in 2012, save interception percentage, fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives. Nevertheless, the Ravens signed Flacco to a record-breaking $120 million contract this offseason after their Super Bowl win.

That's how important stability at quarterback is.

Palmer was supposed to be the Raiders' answer. In 2011, then-head coach Hue Jackson dealt a first- and a second-round draft pick to the Cincinnati Bengals for Palmer who, at the time, was willfully not reporting to the Bengals and presumed himself retired, per Robert Klemko of USA Today.

Jackson hailed it as "the greatest trade in football." He'd come to regret those words, according to Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports, but his enthusiasm was understandable: His team had pried a decent quarterback in his prime away from another team—which, again, is all but impossible in today's NFL.

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 06: Carson Palmer #3 of the Oakland Raiders fumbles the ball during their game against the Denver Broncos at O.co Coliseum on December 6, 2012 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After Palmer threw too many interceptions against too few touchdowns to be the building block the team needed, Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie cast his net far and wide.

McKenzie spent the Raiders' 2013 fourth-round pick on Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson, then traded his fifth-round pick in the 2014 draft, plus a conditional 2015 pick, for veteran Matt Flynn. Lost in all of this?

Pryor was the player the Raiders selected in the third round of the 2011 supplemental draft. According to ESPN's John Clayton (via Klemko), at the time the Raiders were more interested in Pryor as a short-term wide receiver than long-term quarterback.

Fall From Grace

Coming out of Jeannette, Pa., Pryor was the 2008 consensus No. 1 overall recruit, profiled here by Rivals.com.

Listed at 6'6", 235 pounds, Pryor was blessed with prototypical size, sprinter speed and a cannon arm. As the ultimate "dual-threat quarterback," Pryor had his pick of colleges, and his commitment became something of a media circus.

Ohio State, his eventual choice, was an odd fit. Then-head coach Jim Tressel was not known for using "dual-threat" quarterbacks or wide-open passing offenses, to say the least.

Nevertheless, Tressel deployed Pryor early and often, despite obvious rawness as a passer. Designed run plays and special packages constructed to maximize Pryor's athleticism helped get him involved quickly.

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 04:  Terrelle Pryor #2 of the Ohio State Buckeyes celebrates the Buckeyes 31-26 victory against the Arkansas Razorbacks during the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome on January 4, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Pho
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

In his junior season, Pryor took a big step forward, completing 65 percent of his throws for 2,772 yards (8.6 yards per attempt), 27 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The Buckeyes went 12-1 and won the Sugar Bowl. 

Pryor looked set to stake his claim as a top-10 NFL draft pick, when he was embroiled in a memorabilia-for-goods scandal that ended both his and Tressel's careers at Ohio State.

When the Raiders took Pryor in the third round of the supplemental draft, the jokes wrote themselves: eye-popping measurables, questionable football IQ, off-field issues...a born Raider, har har.

I once wrote about Pryor as an example of how young African-American quarterbacks are trained to abandon mechanics. Earlier this offseason, Pryor told Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group he "never really knew how to throw a football before."

Pryor continued by saying, "They've got me going in the right direction to be a pretty good quarterback who knows how to throw the ball."

Now, after beating out Flynn, Wilson and undrafted free agent Matt McGloin for the Raiders starting gig, Pryor is beginning to realize his unlimited potential.

The Gamer Section

From the first series, the Broncos game plan was clear. Their defensive line played strict, patient contain, not rushing upfield with urgency. That way, they didn't get much heat on Pryor, but kept him and his speedy legs in the pocket.

The Broncos plan was to force Pryor to beat them with his arm. If he'd had better weapons to throw to, or if his defense had been up to the challenge, Pryor might have done exactly that:

Pryor was calm and cool in the pocket, feeling the rush and effortlessly moving to avoid it, while keeping his eyes downfield and moving through his progressions. The Broncos gave Pryor time to pick their secondary apart, and that's what he did. Of the 13 Raiders first downs, per NFL.com, 11 of them came through the air. 

The Raiders receivers struggled with drops. Pryor's clearly still working on modulating his arm strength, but for the most part, the receivers should just be ready for it to come in a little hot. A couple of times, Pryor killed his receivers by not leading them away from lined-up defensive backs.

Beyond that, Pryor had a nearly impeccable game against the Broncos. He used all of his tools, especially on plays like this semi-miraculous seven-yard completion:

If Pryor can continue to blend his athleticism into his game, while passing effectively and efficiently, he's going be the cornerstone of the Raiders franchise for years to come.

Now It's On

This is how it was always supposed to be.

The questions now are "Can he continue to get better?" and "Will the Raiders put a team around him?"

The first isn't a question of ability, but of effort and coaching. There's no denying that Pryor has the physical tools to play the game at its highest level. It remains to be seen if he can put in the time and effort to reach that level and stay there.

What of the rest of the team? Pryor will need offensive coordinator Greg Olson to keep coaching him up, and head coach Dennis Allen to work with McKenzie on surrounding him with offensive weapons.

Pryor suffered a concussion late in Monday night's game and will have to undergo a series of tests before he can be cleared to play in Week 4 against the Redskins at home.

Oakland is certainly hoping Pryor will be healthy enough to take the reins for the rest of season, because whatever else is wrong with the Raiders, which is a lot, has nothing to do with Terrelle Pryor.

Maybe, just maybe, the Raiders found their franchise quarterback.


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