I was going to title this “How Pryor can Luck His Way to 1-0,” but I boo’d myself at the pun and decided to change it to this. You’re welcome hahaha.
Pundits and fans almost unanimously believe that Indianapolis will roll over the Oakland Raiders in their home opener. With a franchise QB in Luck, a reinvented offense, and a retooled defense, it seems like the stars have aligned for a 1-0 start for the Colts. But what fun would it be to watch the opening weekend for the Oakland Raiders and just know going in that they don’t stand a chance? While the odds are certainly against them, football upsets are terribly, terribly common, especially in the opening weeks as teams start to show what they’re really made of. In an effort to excite Raider Nation a little bit, here’s how I can see Pryor sneaking his way to a victory in his second NFL start.
- The reinvented Raiders defense really was holding back in the preseason.
This is less about Pryor than my other points, but Pryor needs a defense to stand a chance in this game. Luckily, the Raiders defense may be more ready for Luck than many expect. Jason Tarver, the former Stanford defensive coordinator, has talked all preseason about his “activation” packages, where he highlights a player from the defense to rush the passer. While the Raiders lack a true elite defensive end pass rusher, they have effective enough of players that the creative defense may prove to be worth it. Tyvon Branch, Charles Woodson, Kevin Burnett, and Sio Moore are all names off the top of my head that I have seen effectively rush the passer. While this was seen somewhat early on in the preseason with Week 1’s coverage sack of Romo (when’s the last time the Raiders have had good enough of a defense to get a coverage sack?), the defense through every other week was completely torched. What was interesting to me, though, was that the defense actually looked fairly solid when it was all playing together.
Dennis Allen and Jason Tarver have alluded to the fact that they were intentionally playing vanilla defense all preseason. If this is true, Luck and the Colts offense could be in for a surprise. While Drew Brees, Jay Cutler, and Russell Wilson had shredded the defense while they were on the field, some of that may be contributed to said preseason gameplanning. The Raiders run defense, outside of playing Matt Forte, has played extremely solidly. Last week’s game against the Seahawks showed how the Raiders run defense can play when everyone is on the field at the same time, as the Raiders held the Seahawks to just 53 rushing yards on 32 attempts (a stunning 1.7 yards per rush). The second and third string defenses have played lights out all preseason, which unfortunately doesn’t mean a whole lot come the regular season, but it is a bit unique that the talent level across the depth chart is roughly equal. The cornerback depth overall is infinitely better than last year, as DJ Hayden has looked like a 12th overall pick, Adams went three weeks without allowing a single catch before Stephen Williams, and the depth has proven to be surprisingly solid.
- Terrelle Pryor opens running lanes for the Raiders’ most explosive player, DMC.
This is less of a wild prediction than #1. Immediately after Veldheer’s injury, I wrote that Flynn was no longer the answer and it was time to start Pryor. I believe that the presence of Pryor alone should make it easier running for any runningback on the Raiders, as Pryor’s athleticism has to be accounted for on every single play. DMC has shown a frustrating lack of vision the past few seasons, seemingly running into his own blockers at will, but he is still a dangerous threat in the open field. Watching Pryor this preseason behind Flynn reminded me a lot of a less accurate version of Wilson’s overtaking of Flynn last offseason. The offense worked behind Flynn, but not well. When the backup entered, the team was energized and everyone was making plays. The Raiders offense is upgraded when Pryor is playing consistently, and the only thing that can help that is game experience. With the threat of running, the pass rush should be slowed somewhat. Holes will be opened as the defense is forced to play the entire field, which should open up the inside for McFadden. This was seen last week against Seattle: on six rushes, Rashad Jennings was able to rush for 53 yards, 23 more yards than the Seahawks’ runningbacks combined. While Marshawn Lynch didn’t play, the Seahawks are famous for their depth at RB, and Jennings outplayed every single one of them. Nobody has compared Jenning’s explosiveness to McFadden’s, but a lot of this has been forgotten as DMC has been held out of the preseason. Everyone should be reminded of this come Sunday.
- Pryor shows consistent enough of accuracy to let the Raiders receivers run.
Finally, probably my boldest prediction of the three. Looking at stat lines, Terrelle Pryor had a fairly pedestrian preseason overall. His 3/8 for 31 yards and an INT against Seattle inspires little confidence, and to some, it just doesn’t seem like his consistency is there. But watching his throws, I see a passer that has greatly, greatly improved since taking the field against the Chargers. Drops by the receivers and playing against 4 fairly good defenses this preseason (all of which should be tougher than the Colts defense) contributed to Pryor having average stats, but most of the throws were a lot more accurate than most analysts believe. Pryor’s TD throw to Nick Kasa against the Bears, in particular, was thrown literally only where Kasa could catch it. I was surprised when rewatching games, but Pryor delivered a number of beautiful throws compared to a fairly limited number of mistakes. He has been praised since arriving for being a hard worker who needs to iron out his inconsistencies, but I must say that I’m a believer. While he hasn’t been perfect, I believe that Pryor has looked much more ready for Sunday than many people expect. The Raiders receivers are young and inexperienced, but they are deep and fast. It won’t be a perfect offense on Sunday, as there will be growing pains. But don’t be too surprised if Pryor looks better than you expected.
There you have it, Raider Nation. I’ve been reading around lately, and it seems like everyone has accepted this as a loss and moved on. Surprisingly, this also includes Raiders fans. Everyone should at least have some hope come week 1, so I hope these points have reinvigorated the Nation a bit. There will be rough patches this season, but I think the NFL may be a bit surprised to see the Raiders not getting blown out of every game.