Week 3’s game against the Broncos was going to be a tough matchup for a young Raiders team no matter what, but Raiders fans should still be encouraged by their team’s outing on Monday night. Although it was a rough start and the defense was gashed on virtually every play in the first half, there are very few teams in the league that have the defensive depth to shut down an offense as effective as the Broncos. Division rival or not, they’ve somehow managed to surpass all of their preseason hype, as Peyton seems to be taking his already Hall-of-Fame career to new heights. Even as a Raiders fan, it was impressive to watch him dissect every defense the Raiders threw at him and always make a hot route to free up one of his receivers. I mention this not to heap even more praise on the Broncos, but to remind Raiders fans of the main reason their team may have looked bad on defense. Personally, I wasn’t terribly happy with the lack of disguised coverage, since that’s pretty much the only thing that Peyton can be slowed down by, but we played tight coverage most of the night and did manage to hold the Broncos to a season low of points. The Raiders forced their first two turnovers of the season, including an impressive strip-sack of Manning by rising star Lamaar Houston.
On a short week, the Raiders now get to return home and play a struggling Washington Redskins team. Here’s a few questions that I will be paying attention to throughout the week.
1. Can Pryor continue developing…or even playing?
At this point, Raiders fans have to be incredibly encouraged by Terrelle Pryor. He has shown marked improvement from week to week: an electrifying runner, but raw passer, week 1 against the Colts; an efficient game manager with the ability to run in week 2; and most encouraging, a poise in the pocket that hasn’t been seen since Rich Gannon against a very-good Denver team. Although they lightened up in the second half, Pryor still faced regular pressure from an aggressive contain defense by Jack Del Rio and the Broncos, which made most Raiders fans nervous. Pryor surprised me, hitting read after read and repeatedly making plays happen. He wasn’t helped much at all by his receivers until late in the game, but Pryor’s growth from week-to-week is by far the most exciting growth in the NFL.
Unfortunately, Pryor sustained a concussion in the final minutes of the game in a mad rally for a comeback. The Raiders still scored on the drive, but Pryor was taken to the locker room before the Raiders’ final drive. He appeared okay on the bench, but tweeted after the game that he didn’t remember much of the game, a concerning sign. He is questionable for Week 4 and was not seen at Wednesday’s practice, presumably attempting to pass concussion tests. If he is able to suit up, I expect some gaudy passing numbers on a historically-bad Redskins secondary. It’s likely that he will be reigned in a bit as a runner as a precaution, but Pryor showed last week that he can do a lot of damage with his arm if left in the pocket. Pryor showed some intense pocket presence on Monday, hanging in throws until the absolute last possible minute to let receivers get a sliver of separation.
2. Can the defense rebound?
Like I mentioned in the intro paragraph, I don’t think the defense necessarily played badly on Monday night. Yes, Peyton scorched them, but I realistically can only see the Seahawks’ incredible secondary depth being the only team that can stop them. Woodson lined up everywhere on Monday night trying to make something happen, but Peyton had his number all game and kept throwing into the holes left when Woodson would blitz or bring pressure. The line regularly got a push and eventually forced Peyton out of the pocket and rushed a few of his throws, an encouraging sign even if it did occur in “garbage” time (I put that in quotes because I believe the Raiders were threatening enough all game to keep the Broncos competing, so I don’t really think there was much garbage time until the final drives).
I expect to see the Raiders tighten up a lot on defense next week. The Raiders had a comparable game to this Redskins game on their opening week against Andrew Luck and the Colts’ offense. Although Luck started that game pretty much perfect, he eventually started to feel the pressure of the Raiders and allowed them to play their way back into the game. The Raiders selectively blitzed defensive backs and linebackers to keep the pressure coming from every direction, which seemed to fluster Luck and allow the corners to shut down the receivers. RG3 has seemed to struggle so far this season, and a similar defensive plan like the one we used Week 1 should work this week. RG3 is not as good at dissecting complex blitzes as Peyton, and his offensive line is certainly a step back. Also adding to the pass rush is the return of Sio Moore, who was questionable last week from a car accident he sustained before leaving to Denver. He was questionable, but ruled out just prior to game time. I expect to see him add a lot to the Raiders pass rush and opening Houston and the rest of the line to do even more damage.
3. Can one of the receivers finally show up week in and week out?
I wrote earlier this week that the Raiders needed to trade for Josh Gordon. My reasoning behind this was shown in the beginning of the Broncos game; aside from his very first pass, Pryor frequently delivered the ball on the money, or at least close enough that a play should have been made. The offense struggled mightily until the coverage loosened up and the receivers were able to actually do damage, which seemed to reinforce my belief that the Raiders are lacking the true receiving threat that teams have to account for on every single play. The team’s receivers have potential, and it is reasonable to think that any of them could become that go-to receiver that helps the team reach its full potential. The main problem, though, is that the corps seems to take turns on who is actually able to be that dominant receiver. Streater has shown glimpses of true #1 WR status catches by leaping around defenses to make plays on poorly thrown balls, but he can also disappear from game to game. Denarius Moore showed some playmaking ability that he hasn’t shown on the field in a while, breaking loose for the Raiders’ first TD of the game and making catches in open space and making things happen, but Raiders fans know that this isn’t very common for Moore. Brice Butler looked terrific in the preseason, but has been virtually absent until the second half (including a bad drop in the first quarter). If just ONE of these receivers could become a go-to guy, the others would benefit greatly from being in a supporting role.
This week provides a prime opportunity for the receivers, no matter who is at quarterback. The Redskins secondary has been historically bad through the first three games of the season, regularly giving up huge gains through the air. I expect one of the receivers to step up big, be it Streater, Moore, or even Butler or one of the tight ends. As long as this happens, the Raiders should enjoy entering their stretch of divisional games before the bye with a 2-2 record.