It was the Terrelle Pryor Coming Out Party on Friday Night.
At least if it wasn't, it focused a National Spotlight onto Terrelle Pryor with many people outside of the Raider Nation saying, "Poor Matt Flynn" and "It's TP Time!" With the Raiders' offense floundering for the 2nd straight week with Matt Flynn at the helm, Pryor came in and provided a spark. As it happened, this little spark has led to a full-blown firestorm as HC Dennis Allen has now even acknowledged Pryor's play and, perhaps more telling, has acknowledged Flynn's less-than-desirable play.
"You don't win the job in practice. You earn the right to playing time in practice. You win the job on the field." Marvin Lewsi, paraphrased from Hard Knocks last week. It's an interesting sentiment and we will see how Allen views it since the difference in on-field play appears to be narrowing or perhaps tilting in Pryor's favor.
In ths post, I'm going to look at three different aspects of Pryor's game.
Think of this as "Accuracy" and then some. It is a combination of knowing where to put the ball and then being able to execute that. Throw the ball to the back shoulder. Place the ball away from the defender so as not to lead the receiver into a big hit. Fit the ball into a tight window, between multiple defenders. Find the hole in the zone. Lead the receiver so that he can run in stride. These are all examples of Ball Placement and is more often associated with Veteran QBs than rookie ones. Often rookie and young QBs have trouble reading zone defense correctly and their throws will lead WRs into a Defenseless Receiver penalty (Yay, Free 15 Yards). (Note : that against Zone defenses, WRs need to throttle down and/or settle into the holes of a zone. The common mantra is "Run thru Man [coverage] and Stop on Zone."). And QBs evolve to be able to throw away from defenders or to make back shoulder throws.
In the Chicago Preseaon game, Pryor made a number of throws with ball placement that was excellent. He did make one notable poor throw (to Streater) in which he overthrew the receiver badly and nearly gave up and interception.
What was remarkable about this ball placement is how good it was; in fact, it was so good that it may have gone unnoticed because it is easy to take for granted. Additionally, Pryor has been diligently working on his mechanics and while at times his footwork seems to get a just a bit muddled, overall it is improved and his throwing motion has become cleaner. Earlier, he had made strides in making it more compact (from the more "slinging" style he showed at Ohio State), but his throws still seemed like they were being "Aimed" and "Flicked" more than "Driven."
And Pryor's throw to Streater had that "Flick"-quality to it owing to the lack of a proper follow thru, but after that, he looked much better. The throw to Mychal Rivera in the seam of the zones was a beauty and was the first throw that made me say, "Yes. I think he's getting close." He then followed that up with that great throw to Jacoby Ford on the sideline and the Nick Kasa TD as well as a very nice swing pass to Jeremy Stewart and I am growing increasingly impressed.
To Rivera :
To Ford :
To Streater :
Side Note (Hmmm...) :
To Stewart :
To Kasa :
for more details on Pryor's ball placement, see this; Ball Placement
Rush Lane Discipline
The Raiders' offensive line is a mess. Ok. And so the task set forth to the Coaching Staff is how to slow up opposing pass rush and blitz attacks. There will be schemes and attacks and play calling that will help. Typically draws and screens are good to slow down pass rushers a little bit.
But Terrelle Pryor's inherent physical talents may naturally discourage a "Pin the Ears Back"-onslaught. Because of Pryor's fantastic running ability (speed, elusiveness, and strength), he can punish a defense for leaving running lanes open the same way Colin Kaepernick punished Green Bay in the 2012 Playoffs. This may force defensive players to ease up on their pass rush and play more of a "Contain"-type approach instead of the typical pass rush.
This may also limit Stunts and Twists which have a higher tendency to open up opposing running lanes. That would significantly help the offensive line which is already having difficulty building their chemistry and with continual player substitutions (3 different First Team lineups in each of the first 3 preseason games).
Here's a look at how Pryor exploited the running lanes against Chicago.
For more details on the Rush Lane discipline, see this : Rush Lane Discipline
Why do Coaches prefer Veteran QBs to rookie QBs so much? The answer is generally because of Decision Making. The opposite of "Rookie Mistake" is "Veteran [Good] Decision." We expect a veteran QB to understand all the offensive concepts employed, to know where to attack the defense and the defensive schemes, and to be able to make good, smart decisions that--while they may not be the Sexy Explosive Big Plays--will be solid plays.
An NFL GM was once quoted as saying a team should plan on losing 1 game per season for every rookie starter; this is just because of the natural mistakes that will happen as a rookie learns the game. Presumably it's worse if that rookie is a QB. Decision making may be the single biggest difference between a great QB and a mediocre or poor one. Combine Decision making with Ball Placement and you have Tom Brady/Peyton Manning.
We've all seen those poor rookie QB decisions in the past. And as Pryor has played, he has also made some mistakes due to his judgment on the field. That's fact, but what is nice is that mistakes aren't the final judgment on the man; the mistakes are part of the process.
Now what we want to see is that the process is functioning. We should see mistakes NOT repeating themselves. We should see better decisions being made over time. There are some QBs (like Kyle Boller) who make the exact same poor decisions and throws time and time again as if they are unable to learn from the past experience and the coaching corrections. It is still very early in Pryor's development, but it does seem that Pryor is growing in his decision making, which also ties into his ball placement. But in this, he does seem to have the most work to do still. And with such physical talents available to him, it's a more difficult task to make the right decision when he has so many options (which receiver to throw to, scramble to throw, scramble to run, etc).
I want to point out two different sequences and sets of plays that stuck out to me that indicate the progress Pryor may be making.
(1) Roll out Throw
Against Dallas, Pryor had a rollout situation in the Red zone and forced a throw across his body into coverage, which resulted in an interception
Against Chicago, when facing another rollout play, this time Pryor finds his downfield receiver on the sideline and hits him. These aren't truly equivalent situations since there was not a viable target in coverage, but this play did seem to give an indication that Pryor may be understanding the spacing and velocity needed in these compressed-space throwing windows.
(2) Screen Play (no pics)
The other situation was the screen play. Against New Orleans, the Saints had correctly diagnosed the screen play and so Pryor gave up on the play and threw the ball into the dirt at the RB's feet. The Line Judge threw an Intentional Grounding penalty on that play.
Against the Bears, there was another situation where a screen was sniffed out and Pryor this time decided against "dirting" the ball and eventually took the sack. While it seems like Pryor's decision here was not the best (he could have thrown the ball away to avoid the sack), it does seem that he's adjusting to calls from the officials from earlier and so he is progressing. This may be an indication that he is still developing in the mental aspect of the game and needs more experience to quickly make these decisions.
Still, it's encouraging that he's not making the same mistake twice.
It's still early. It's early in Pryor's development and it's far from assured that Pryor has done enough to win the position, but he has certainly done enough to warrant consideration and to get closer and more serious analysis. There's a lot to like and there's a lot to be excited about, but he is still clearly developmental and as such, if he does become the starter there will be certain growing pains. One question that must be answered is whether or not the Trial By Fire approach will accelerate his development or retard it.
It looks like the Raiders will have a meaningful Week 4 game.