In a game where the offense struggled to do much of anything, much has been made about Pryor’s inability to move the ball consistently. This was intensely magnified in Sunday’s game when his running ability was nonexistent, which seems at least partially due to a strained PCL. Pryor has definitely regressed in recent weeks after a hot start to the season, going 61/120 (50.8%) for 714 yards, 1 TD, and 8 INTS in the past month. His running impact has hurt his development as a pocket passer, regularly running to his right, shrinking the field, and limiting his reads. Pryor threw a number of terrible passes on Sunday and was lucky to only have one interception, and it was no doubt his worst game as a professional. His strip-sack on the Raiders’ final drive was inexcusable, as he had nearly five seconds in the pocket to throw to someone and instead allowed enough time for Kiwanuka to run completely around the pocket and sack him. If he continues to have games like this, he won’t be the Raiders starting QB for much longer. Combined with his injury, it is likely that Matt McGloin, the undrafted quarterback out of Penn State, could see play time very soon; this should be confirmed in the coming days’ practice reports.
Sunday’s loss wasn’t entirely on Pryor, though. Even with his terrible stats over the past four weeks, it is tough to imagine much more production on the team. McGloin could easily have better passing numbers, but he could just as well struggle as much as Pryor with his limitations as a pure pocket passer. Let’s start with just how bad this offensive line for the Raiders is, something that would be intensely magnified with a more traditional QB. Even the most casual observer can tell that the Raiders have had the worst offensive line play in the league. The Raiders have started more offensive line combinations than any other team in the league, and it has greatly held back the team’s ability to succeed lately. Khalif Barnes had held up well enough for the first part of the season as an emergency left tackle, but he struggled mightily in this game with three holding calls, a false start on the goal line, and allowing a sack and plenty of pressures. Much has been made about Pryor’s inability to complete passes rolling to the left, but it’s difficult to roll to the left when the offensive line makes that impossible. Menelik Watson struggled some in his first start at right tackle, which is to be expected from a raw college prospect with just one year of any football experience, but he was unfortunately the only offensive line highlight of this game. Lucas Nix continues to have one of the worst seasons by a guard ever, Mike Brisiel hasn’t seemed much better as a replacement guard, and even Wisniewski had a number of poor snaps and was generally below-average for much of the game. This doesn’t excuse Pryor’s fumble late in the game, but that play was a very rare instance of Pryor actually getting a pocket.
Unfortunately for the Raiders, the team’s worst offensive line display of the season also came at the same time that the receivers decided to stay home. Denarius Moore had been the team’s best receiver for the first half of the season, but he struggled mightily in coverage and generally had a hard time getting separation. Pryor’s first three targets to Moore were all on-target, or at least close enough that Moore was able to get his hands on the ball, and he just dropped them. Rod Streater, the team’s most reliable receiver, struggled badly as well, getting just one catch for six yards late in the second half. If it wasn’t for Andre Holmes stepping up on special teams with the fumble recovery on the game’s opening play, I would say that the receiving threats (or lack of them, to be more accurate) were the main reason for the offense’s inability to do anything on Sunday.
The offense’s sole production came from a wonderful day by Rashad Jennings, who has quickly proven to be one best free agents that the Raiders signed this season. He has averaged an incredible 4.6 yards per carry, tied with Marshawn Lynch and CJ Spiller, and ran through the line with incredible power. The line has struggled mightily in pass protection this year, as previously noted, but they opened up just enough holes to give Jennings room to run and have a successful day. Raiders fans have grown tired of Darren McFadden’s inability to do the same this season, and the coaching staff has noticed enough to give Jennings carries even when DMC returns. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Jennings in a primary role for most of the season and seeing what Jennings, Reece, Jeremy Stewart, and Latavius Murray (this year’s 6th-round pick on IR) can do in 2014 and beyond. Jennings is a good power runner that seems capable of picking up whatever is blocked, something that the Raiders have seemed to lack for a while. DMC seems all but done in the Silver and Black, but the team seems to have found another threat at runningback. Definitely a bright spot in an otherwise dark day.
With each week, this team is quickly showing that it still has growing to do. It seems as though the offense, defense, and special teams are having trouble all coming together at the same time. A week after allowing a franchise-worst seven TD passes, the defense stepped up huge and held Eli Manning and the Giants to just 140 passing yards. They allowed steady yardage to Andre Brown, but a lot of that can be attributed to how good Brown is as long as he is healthy; a number of his runs were stopped at or near the line of scrimmage and he would just bounce them slightly outside for enough yardage to get the job done. The special teams had an incredible day, setting the tone from the gate with a quick turnover. The punt protection team allowed for a blocked punt for a touchdown, but was otherwise stellar and allowed Marquette King to have his best day as a Raider. His power was finally met with an ability to down punts inside the 20 with two high-difficulty punts successfully downed in the ten and constantly giving the Giants bad field position.
The team needs steady production from all three phases, and it is difficult to assume that they can do this week in and week out with the current roster. The receivers are still struggling to play hard week in and week out. There is virtually nothing at tight end, especially since Ausberry was added to IR a few weeks ago. The offensive line has been down for the count since week one and has just gotten worse as the season progresses. Pryor needs to develop to show that he is a long-term answer for the Raiders, but fans must also temper their expectations and look at how bad the rest of the roster is before looking for a scapegoat. If Pryor continues to struggle like this when the line regains health, it will definitely be a cause for concern and severely limit his chances at being the Raiders’ franchise quarterback. His play against the Giants, frankly, was terrible. But again, keep perspective; this is still Pryor’s first season as a starter with some of the most inconsistent offensive weapons in the league. Before judging his long-term potential, give him an opportunity to work behind starter-quality players. If he still struggles this year and next year, then the Raiders need to move on. If it was just his injury and terrible offensive cast holding him back, like I suspect, then this is just a bad game in what is essentially #2’s rookie season and should be treated as one exceptionally bad game.