Bears-Raiders Rewind: Pryor creates QB controversy

QB controversy in Oakland?

Bears-Raiders Rewind: Pryor creates QB controversy
August 24, 2013, 1:00 am
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Terrelle Pryor led the Raiders to 20 points in five drives; Matt Flynn produced zero points in four. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

What you need to know: Matt Flynn unfastened his chin strap and walked slowly toward the sideline to a chorus of boos. Fans weren't happy with his second interception of the first half or the listless offense he led. 

The low drone faded in time, replaced by an unmistakable chant that grew louder and louder still.

Pry-or! Pry-or! Pry-or! Pry-or!

The fans had seen enough. They wanted their beloved backup quarterback to enter the fray. Their wish was granted, maybe in more ways than one. Pryor was at his very best during Friday’s 34-26 loss to the Chicago Bears at Oakland Coliseum, so good that he started a quarterback controversy.

[RECAP: Bears 34, Raiders 26]

Pryor scored 20 points in five drives, made plays no one else could make and gave the Raiders a glimpse of how good he can be.

He was 7-for-9 passing for 93 yards and a touchdown. He had 37 rushing yards on four well-timed carries, including a 25-yard touchdown run that excited a once-frustrated crowd.

It wasn’t good enough to take Flynn’s starting job. Not yet, at least. Coach Dennis Allen has said on several occasions that starting quarterback was Flynn’s title to lose. Now more than ever, it’s possible that Pryor might win it outright.

“I want to take a look at that, just like any other position,” Allen said. “I want to look at what gives us the best chance to win. That’s all I’m concerned about.” Thus far, Pryor gives the Raiders a better chance to score points. He scored 20 points in five drives. Flynn was shut out in four.

Flynn wasn’t pleased with his performance, but he wasn’t worried if it cost him ground in the quarterback race.

“I’m not sure about any of that,” Flynn said. “I’m going to keep busting my tail every day. I’m going to learn from the mistakes I made and play the best football I can. Preseason game No. 3 is not going to affect me in the long run. It’s not going to change the way I prepare and the confidence I have in myself. “

One good game won’t win the job, just like a bad one won’t lose it. Flynn has been the better man throughout training camp, although deficiencies in arm strength, blitz pickup and an penchant for checking down are working against him.

Inconsistency is Pryor’s biggest problem. It’s kept him from realizing his full potential. On Friday, that wasn’t an issue. Against the Bears, he was near perfect.

He played mostly against a second-team defense. That was the only knock against Pryor’s performance.

Pryor gave the team a spark with a flare for the dramatic. He scrambled, kept plays alive and completed big passes. He made smart decisions to run, and took advantage of some gaps in coverage.

While it certainly helped his case to be the starting quarterback –- especially on a team with issues protecting the passer –- Pryor shied away from the topic.

“I’m not even going to get into that,” Pryor said. “Right now, my focus is to get better every day. I have a love and a passion for this game and my goal is to get one percent better every day.”

Allen doesn’t have to make a decision on his quarterback for two more weeks, and he certainly won’t until the preseason slate is done. He’ll weigh the full body of work and decide which player gives him the best chance to win and score points.

Flynn is the safe bet. Pryor's a gamble. He's a dynamic playmaker, he’ll make his share of mistakes. When Flynn makes big miscues, Pryor becomes an increasingly attractive option. There's no easy answer. Both have traits that fall on either side of a pros and cons list. 

There’s no denying two basic facts: Flynn didn’t play well. Pyror certainly did.

“I think his mobility helped him create some plays down the field,” Allen said. “He made some really impressive throws too.

“I want to look at who gives us the best chance to move the ball down the field and score points. And what combination of things gives us the best chance to win. I’m not going to look at one night and base any type of decision off of it. I’m going to go back and look at it. We’ll see where we go from here."

Lasting impact: The Raiders couldn’t stop the run at all in the first half. Chicago’s Matt Forte and Michael Bush combined for 95 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. That’s a whopping 5.9 yards per carry, a stat guaranteed to get you beat.

The Bears ran especially well outside the tackles, a trait shockingly common among three preseason games. Raiders defensive ends have struggled to set a solid edge and force backs back inside, and made no improvement in that regard.

The return of starting tackle Vance Walker and end Lamarr Houston didn’t help matters much. The run defense was exposed, a troubling fact that must be fixed.

If a defense can’t stop the run, nothing else matters. On Friday, the Bears ran wild.

“The run defense simply wasn’t good enough,” Allen said. “I haven’t looked at the tape, but we didn’t play fast enough. We didn’t tackle well enough. I thought we made too many mistakes and too many errors.”

Play of the Game: Pryor didn’t have many options downfield, but he refused to give up on the play. He dodged pressure from the inside, rolled right, shook off a tackle, made his way left and leapt to threw a high strike that Rod Streater secured for a 19-yard gain (shown right). It showed rare athleticism and playmaking ability that gives Pyror a chance to start during the regular season.

Player of the Game: This one is a given. Pryor had a strong showing, with little, if anything, to complain about. He made smart decisions. He was efficient as a passer and ran at the right time. The team scored 20 points in five drives under Pryor, and he gave the offense some energy. Hard to ask for more from a quarterback.


Looking good: Outside linebacker Sio Moore has shown real growth during this preseason. He’s getting better as a pass rusher, including a big hit that resulted in an interception for Joselio Hanson.

The rookie’s expectations were high, and his living up to them during this preseason. He’s a diverse talent who can rush the passer and tackle well. He needs to work on run defense, especially on the outside, but he’s good in space and rarely misses a tackle.

Punting battle wages on: The Raiders have given Chris Kluwe and Marquette King opportunities throughout the preseason, and that continued Friday. Kluwe has been more consistent, and King didn’t have a great game. He sent a punt way into the end zone for a touchback, struggled with a hold on a field goal missed by Sebastian Janikowski and shanked another punt attempt.

Needs Improvement: The offensive line didn’t allow as many sacks -– the Saints had seven last week –- but never formed a cohesive pocket for Flynn. Pryor too was under constant pressure and Rashad Jennings had little room to run. He averaged just 2.9 yards per carry running with the first unit.

There were too many penalties from the starting unit, especially on the outside. Left tackle Alex Barron and right tackle Khalif Barnes struggled in all facets.

“We didn’t do a good enough job in the first half,” Allen said. “I don’t know if they even took a small step forward. I look at the first half and say, ‘We have to play better.’”

McFadden sits out: Raiders running back Darren McFadden did not play Friday night due to a shoulder injury suffered in last week’s exhibition versus the Saints.

McFadden practiced during the week, but Allen didn’t want to risk further injury by playing him at less than full health during a preseason game.

“If we had to play a regular season game today,” Allen said, “Darren would have played.”

Injury Concerns: Receiver Rod Streater suffered a concussion on a dramatic reception where he took flight and grabbed a high throw from Terrelle Pryor. He did not return. Per NFL policy, Streater must pass a series of post-concussion tests before returning to practice.

Safety Usama Young and receiver Brice Butler suffered minor hamstring strains. Cornerback Joselio Hanson has a groin strain.

Quote of the day: “I don’t think Matt Flynn played well in this game. Obviously, Terrelle Pryor came in a gave us a spark.” 
--Raiders coach Dennis Allen on the team’s quarterback play

Looking ahead: The Raiders will go through the rest of the preseason at their headquarters in Alameda. The team must cut the roster from 90 to 75 on Tuesday and play at Seattle on Thursday in the exhibition finale. The team will cut the roster to 53 on Aug. 31.