This season has seemed pretty topsy-turvy for the first few weeks, but perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of the season so far is Oakland becoming energized and ready to win games. Reggie McKenzie has completely retooled the Raiders and set them up to become a winning organization very, very soon, and perhaps the most exciting has been watching Oakland’s young and talented offense grow and gain valuable game experience. Here’s a brief look at how this offense has changed so radically since the end of last year.
After the Chargers’ game last year, the Raiders immediately had to begin slashing the team. A lot of Al Davis’ financial decisions towards the end of his life were completely ridiculous, putting the team close to $20 million over the salary cap. Reggie didn’t change the team much in his first season because he was pretty limited on what he could do via the draft and free agency, but he took control this offseason, cutting virtually every single player that was overpaid and underperforming.
Most of this change was limited to the defensive side of the ball, but a couple of key offensive figures were cut as well. Sending Palmer to Arizona and cutting Darrius Heyward-Bey, at the time, seemed like a drastic move to most, as these players had basically been Oakland’s entire offense for a while. However, in retrospect, it seems as though these releases have so far proven to be win-win for all the teams involved. These two moves in particular opene up playing time for Oakland’s new starting QB, Terrelle Pryor, and an opportunity for one of Oakland’s many young, talented receivers to flourish.
Concerned that the young Pryor may not have been ready for game time, the Raiders signed Matt Flynn in the
offseason, drafted Tyler Wilson out of Arkansas, and picked up Matt McGloin from Penn State. Training camp started with Pryor being the third QB on the roster, only ahead of UDFA McGloin, and it stayed this way for most of the offseason. Through hard work, determination, and a bit of spotty play by the rest of the QBs, Pryor eventuallyclawed his way to the backup QB position, with a legitimate opportunity to start. He pounced on this and played lights-out football in the preseason, consistently energizing Oakland’s offense and keeping games close and competitive.
It’s obviously hard to get excited about the preseason, but Pryor’s play overall was some of the best that the Raiders have had from a young quarterback in a long, long time. His playmaking ability behind a line that is as leaky and damaged as the Raiders proved to be the key factor, and after a week 4 preseason game against Flynn’s former team, Pryor was named the opening day starter for the Oakland Raiders.
Raiders fans were nervous that Pryor’s inconsistency would shine in the regular season as teams played at 100% capacity. Kudos to Greg Olsen and a wonderfully creative and expansive offense for preventing this from happening. Week 1 saw the Colts focusing on who they thought to be the biggest offensive threat on the Raiders: Darren McFadden. This allowed for Pryor to run wild and come nine yards shy of a come-from-behind victory as he use read-option and play-action plays to perfection. Week 2 saw the Jaguars focusing on limiting the outside runs and forcing Pryor to hand the ball off more, which the Raiders were more than happy to do.
Darren McFadden went for over 100 yards in what feels like the first time in at least two years, and his success even opened up the field enough for Pryor to have a good day on the ground. Week 3 against the Broncos impressed me more than anything else. The Broncos have a very stiff run defense and kept Pryor in the pocket virtually all night, forcing him to beat them with his arm.
Pryor responded surprisingly well and managed to keep the Raiders in the game with a career day in passing. He repeatedly hit a number of tight, deep throws, constantly keeping the Raiders’ offense moving even with an overall miserable day from McFadden (except for his awesome HB throw, which the Raiders
also debuted for the first time in a few years). Denarius Moore stepped up and showed playmaking ability that the Raiders’ haven’t seen since his breakout game against the Bills in 2011. The concussion at the end of the game was unfortunate, but Pryor really stepped up his play. It’ll be exciting to see what he can do if he is cleared to play the Redskins on Sunday, which he is only one step away from being able to do.
The most exciting part of this Raiders’ offense, though, is that it will only get better as time goes on. Jared Veldheer is going to be cleared to play in just over a month, which should add an incredible amount of stability to the line. Menelik Watson should also be getting healthy for the Raiders soon, providing even more valuable depth on a line that desperately needs it. The receivers all seemed to take a step up on Monday, although I would like to see Jacoby Ford being utilized more often.
Still, I expect these receivers to grow with Pryor and flourish as they start to get more comfortable together. With the injuries that crept up on the team in the offseason, the team was expected to flounder through the season and be competing for the first overall pick in the draft. However, due to an incredible job by the coaching staff, it has actually been turned into a positive, as the Raiders are able to build key depth and still remain competitive in games. Combined with a revitalized defense, the Raiders have so far proven most pundits wrong, and they should be a force to be reckoned with pretty soon.