Bair and Smith: Step back for Pryor, Raiders' offense
Terrelle Pryor must pass a series of concussion-related tests mandated by the NFL before he is cleared to play or practice. (AP)
Terrelle Pryor was calm in chaos, and showed new sides of himself that illustrate growth. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
Programming note: Watch today's Raiders press conference with head coach Dennis Allen live on Comcast SportsNet California at 1 p.m., and streaming live online here
What you need to know: Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pyror might not play next week against Washington. Odds are against him after suffering a concussion on a big hit by Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard that included helmet-to-helmet contact.
Pryor must pass a series of concussion-related tests mandated by the NFL before he is cleared to play or practice. On a short week, that might be tough.
When it comes to head injuries, uncertainty reigns. The league is extremely protective of concussed players these days, and typically err towards caution when determining whether someone is fit to play.
“I have no idea (if he’ll play). I really don’t,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. “He’s got to go through the protocol like everyone else.”
Uncertainty at quarterback is a setback for all involved.
It hurts Pryor’s progress, especially after a solid game against the Broncos passing from the pocket. Pryor had a career-best 281 yards and didn’t throw an interception.
Tuesday morning, Pryor offered this update via Twitter:
Sorry about the loss RaiderNation. I don't remember much ! Good hit by whoever it was. I heard our team fought well .. We will be back!— Terrelle Pryor (@TerrellePryor) September 24, 2013
He started slow but warmed up as the game went along. Pryor was composed in the pocket, and sharper with timing routes. He was calm in chaos, and showed new sides of himself that illustrate growth.
The best news for Pryor fans is that he was active in the locker room after the loss. He was moving around, talking to teammates without a hint of disorientation. Although the NFL prohibits the concussed from conducting interviews, Pryor said he felt good.
That’s far from a telltale sign. Absorbing that big hit could severely hinder his evolution. It throws a kink in the offensive machine and ensures coordinator Greg Olson will have sleepless nights ahead.
Olson did a magnificent job tailoring his offense toward Pryor’s strengths, adding depth and detail as his quarterback progressed. That happened at preseason’s end, when Pryor was promoted to starting quarterback.
There are similar elements between the offense designed for Pryor and presumed starter Matt Flynn, but it carries a different tone and several unique features a less mobile quarterback would struggle with.
If the Raiders don’t know if Pryor will play, preparation for a winnable game becomes extremely complex.
Flynn is poised and ready to start after a brief cameo once the Denver game was long-since lost.
“I’m always going to be ready and I’m always going to prepare,” Flynn said. “That’s one thing this team is never going to have to worry about.”
While taking hits is part of being a quarterback -- especially a mobile one -- the hit Pryor took could’ve happened to anyone carrying the football. He got hit flush, with a jolt to the head.
“He took a shot on that particular play,” Allen said. “I think that play could happen to anybody.”
Flynn’s first action: Flynn played for the first time since losing the starting job during the preseason. He filled in late for Pryor, and led the Raiders to a quick touchdown following a turnover.
He also spoke to the press for the first time since his demotion, but chose not to focus on losing his job in the first place.
“I don’t think this is the time or place to really talk about that,” Flynn said. “Let’s keep it focused on Denver. We have to get better from here.”
Play of the Game: The Raiders got back into the game with a huge, well-timed 73-yard touchdown strike from Pryor to Denarius Moore. Despite the drama involved with Moore’s excellent catch and run, that’s not the play of the game.
What came after was truly a dagger in the heart. Eric Decker turned a short pass into a 61-yard gain on the next play that sparked a touchdown drive that kept the Raiders 17 points back.
“That was deflating,” Allen said. “You can’t give up explosive plays like that. This teams frustrates you with short passes for just enough yards for a first down. Then guys try to go force something that isn’t there, and that’s when big plays happen.”
Cornerback Mike Jenkins tried to make a big play on Decker, going for the interception over the sure tackle. He broke free, rumbled for a big gain and sapped the Raiders' spirit. It was particularly difficult for Jenkins, who was ever-so-close to a big play.
"I thought I had the pick,” Jenkins said. “I could feel the ball. I just couldn’t haul it in. That’s a tough break.”
Player of the Game: The game ball goes to Peyton Manning. The Broncos quarterback gutted the Raiders defense time and again, and made a previously strong unit look sloppy by comparison.
Manning has never been more accurate – a crazy thought in itself considering how good he’s been – in a surgical performance. He was 32-for-37 passing for 374 yards and three touchdowns.
He owned the Raiders, and took away the puncher’s chance they had to start the game.
While Manning is so unique that it’s hard to compare this game to others because of his cerebral style, it’s clear that the Raiders secondary isn’t breaking up enough passes. They’ve played three weeks without an interception or a game-changing play when it mattered most.
“We have to play tight coverage and make plays down the field as well,” Raiders safety Charles Woodson said. “Over the first few weeks, we’re not getting our hands on enough passes. No interceptions again. That’s something we have to consciously think about moving forward.”
[REWIND: Raiders can't solve Manning]
Too many tackles missed: The Raiders tackled extremely well against Jacksonville. They whiffed far too often against the Broncos. The Raiders gave up a whopping 179 yards after the catch, which extended drives and turned average plays into big ones.
“I don’t think we tackled like we needed to,” Allen said.
That’s so critical in the Raiders scheme, where yards are often conceded in small chunks in the interest of making big plays. Against a team like Denver, the Raiders exceeded their margin for error.
“It’s really about being able to match, and even exceed, the efficiency they’re operating at. When you aren’t able to do that, it snowballs like it did tonight.”
The Raiders couldn’t get off the field in the first half, when most damage was done. Those errors crippled the game plan, and left the Raiders way behind the curve.
“”We definitely missed a lot of open-field tackling opportunities,” Roach said. “Anytime you miss tackles, you are adding yardages on to play that wouldn’t necessarily have been so long. That’s fundamental football; it’s not anything specific to a game plan. We can’t blame it on anything except ourselves.
Sleeping giant stirs: Raiders receiver and constant source of frustration Denarius Moore followed a dreadful day against Jacksonville with one fine game. He had six catches for 124 yards and a 73-yard touchdown grab. He was targeted 11 times and was clearly the go-to receiver throughout the game.
The effort wasn’t a surprise. Moore has the ability to produce, without the concentration to do so consistently. It was a positive sign for Oakland that Moore was able to work out of last week’s funk, where Moore got grilled by the press and Allen questioned his confidence.
Moore responded well, but question marks will remain until he shows up each week.
Running in quicksand: Darren McFadden had more yards passing than rushing. True story. The Raiders running back could do nothing against the NFL’s No. 1-ranked run defense, continually slamming into a line without rushing lanes.
He had nine yards and a touchdown on 12 carries, compared to 16 yards and a TD with one pass attempt.
“It was tough running tonight,” McFadden said. “You have to give them all the credit. They did a great job out there.”
The NFL’s best run game averaged 2.9 yards per carry. Outside Pryor’s 23-yard scamper, team had 26 yards on 16 carries.
McFadden fared the worst in a follow-up to a 129-yard performance against Jacksonville. He struggled to get going in the opener at Indianapolis as well, creating an uneven start to a season where he has to perform.
McFadden is a focal point of a downhill, interior rushing offense that can’t get going strong. Part of that is McFadden. Part of it is a line struggling to assert itself.
“They won the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball,” Allen said. “When you look at your inability to run the ball, it starts up front. I don’t think we controlled the line of scrimmage like we needed to.”
That’s been an issue, especially inside at guard. Andre Gurode and typically reliable Stefen Wisniewski struggled blocking for the run. The team’s best offensive linemen are hurt, and lanes aren’t being created with enough regularity for McFadden to flourish. He hasn’t shown much elusiveness in the backfield, typically plowing into the line while saving big moves for a defense’s second level.
“I know the guys up front are working hard and want nothing more than to get the run game going,” McFadden said. “They love doing that. We’re going to keep working on it and get it right.”
[RELATED: Box Score: Broncos 37, Raiders 21]
Injury Concerns: Pryor’s concussion is obviously the biggest issue facing the Raiders right now, but the concussion suffered by Tracy Porter is a huge problem in the secondary.
Porter played outside corner in the base defense and slot corner in the nickel package, and his absence would cause a major re-shuffling in the secondary.Mike Jenkins pulled the Porter rotation after the versatile veteran was concussed, but that’s not an ideal switch because he’s the Raiders best outside corner.
Strong safety Brandian Ross can play the slot – he’s already filling in for injured starter Tyvon Branch but the team would prefer D.J. Hayden and Phillip Adams stay on the outside.
No situation is ideal, the ripple effect of Porter’s loss would further tax a strained secondary.
Rookie linebacker Sio Moore was missed against Denver. He sat out Monday’s game with a concussion suffered in a Sunday auto accident. The Raiders therefore played with just three healthy outside linebackers in a thin position group.
Quote of the day: “You know that, when you play the Broncos, you don’t have room for error. Against Jacksonville, you do. With Peyton, you can’t have a lapse. He’s going to find your weakness and take you apart if you’re not fundamentally sound.” -- Raiders free safety Charles Woodson on a tough loss to the Broncos.
Looking ahead: The Raiders don’t have time to rest and recover much prior to Sunday’s game against the 0-3 Washington Redskins. They must adjust on the fly and hope injured players recover quickly and are able to face Washington.
Both teams are in an uphill battle for respectability, with athletic quarterbacks slowed by injury. The Raiders hope to return to .500, but must play better against a talented team that has underperformed thus far.