The Raiders seemed to take my last article to heart, nearly taking the football world by storm and upsetting the Colts‘ home opener. While fans of other teams have jumped on the bandwagon against the Jaguars, history hasn’t really been kind to the Raiders in games they were supposed to win. Over the past few seasons, the Raiders have had a tendency to show up in games where they aren’t expected to play at all, followed by a tendency to lose games they should dominate. It has been frustrating as a fan to watch the team fail to live up to its expectations week in and week out, but I believe that this season is different. I believe that this disturbing trend will come to an end on Sunday against Jacksonville because of the surprising strength of both the Raiders’ offense and defense.
It is a shame that ESPN and NFL seem to hate reporting on the Raiders unless they have to, because the Raiders actually blew away most of the notions about this team last week. The most startling difference compared to last year’s team was the defense that the Raiders displayed. After letting Luck start the game with 11 straight completions, the defense stiffened significantly in the second half, completely shutting down the Colts offense and letting Pryor work his magic (more on that in a second). This held long enough for the Raiders to score 17 unanswered points and take the lead late into the fourth quarter. It wasn’t until Luck pulled a Luck-y game-winning drive out of his ass that the defense began to falter, but that’s still much better of a game than almost any analyst predicted from the team. The Raiders finished the game with 4 sacks in a fashion I imagined in my previous article: Tarver’s “activation” defense threw a variety of blitzes at Luck, giving a sack a piece to 4 different players. This defense doesn’t have a 15-sack DE that can create pressure all by himself, but the team seems to be taking to Tarver’s defensive philosophies and is starting to create consistent pressure. Although the team gave up 127 rushing yards on 26 attempts, most of these yards were hard-earned, and for the first time in recent memory, there wasn’t some 60+ yard TD run off of four missed tackles. The longest run of the day was Luck’s game-winning 19-yard TD run, but most of that opening was because of such tight coverage on the receivers (and a questionable hold on former Raider DHB, but eh).
Even though the defense played well, it was the offense’s explosiveness that has me convinced that this team is on the rise. Pryor had an opportunity of his own to produce a game-winning drive in his second NFL start against perhaps the best QB in the league right now at pulling out a clutch win. Although he came nine yards short before taking a sack and throwing an interception, it is hard to do anything but praise Pryor’s debut. It was actually perfectly indicative of Pryor’s play until this point: highlight-reel play mixed with headscratching indecisions and random bouts of lost accuracy. Pryor set a franchise record for rushing yards by a QB and was actually leading the entire league until McCoy ran all over Washington and showed an overall strong game passing. He had a 30-yard TD called back because DMC’s toe was an inch out of bounds, which is a shame because it was probably one of his nicest passes of the day. He generally only ran when he had to, which is encouraging once he actually gets a pocket that can protect him. What impressed me more than any of Pryor’s runs or passes, though, was his heart and passion. He didn’t let an immediate 14-0 hole deter him like Raiders teams of the past few years; he gave our team multiple chances to win, literally carrying them on their back. Even despite his efforts, Pryor was seen crying after the game about how he lost the game and should have done more for his team. This passion is something that has been glaringly absent from the Raiders for years, and it is refreshing to see a quarterback that has the drive to be the best. Pryor has had a lot of criticisms throughout his career, but his work ethic is not one of them. If he can keep getting the experience he needs to learn from his mistakes, Pryor can quickly develop into a dangerous weapon for the Raiders’ offense. Pryor has shown a strong desire to actually learn from these mistakes.
The Raiders/Jaguars game is very, very unlikely to get any air time on NFL or ESPN, but don’t let them fool you. The Raiders should be a lot more competitive than most analysts predicted and will be winning games this year. After nearly stealing a win from the Colts, Pryor will ensure a win against a lesser team in his home debut.