The 2013 regular season has finally begun. Ballers & Busters began a month ago with the start of the preseason, but those performances were just to gauge how each player would perform in the regular season.
Now they count. Each performance critical to how the Raiders 2013 season plays out and a direct reflection on their wins and losses.
For their season opener, the Raiders headed to Indianapolis to face the Colts. With no one giving the Raiders much of a chance against a team who finished 11-5 last season, anything they did to show some fight was a surprise.
The Raiders did show some fight, too. After going down 0-14 in the first quarter, they fought back to take the lead 17-14 late in the game. It was much more interesting than anyone was expecting from the Raiders. In the end they would lose to a better team, but it was a promising beginning to this season with plenty upon which to build.
Here are the performances which gave the Raiders a shot and those which dashed their hopes.
The Raiders needed pass rush and Lamarr Houston gave it to them. The Colts got out to a great start, which is not surprising considering they have a steady hand at quarterback with the whole off-season to script their first couple series. They scored touchdowns on their first two drives but by the second drive, Houston had caught onto their plans and began making things much more difficult than they had anticipated. On two straight plays, he showed his abilities in run and pass defense. He stayed at home to keep Andrew Luck bottle up on a scramble, then pressured him from the outside to allow Tyvon Branch to get the sack. The Colts didn't even get in field goal range after the first two drives and included Houston getting into the backfield and get a sack of his own on a three and out near the end of the first half. The lost yardage helped get the Raiders some good field position and the offense was able to drive into field goal range to close out the half. Houston was making Colts left tackle, Anthony Costanzo's life very difficult. In the third quarter, he got a pressure on Luck that flushed him from the pocket and the next play, Castonzo had to grab his facemask to keep him from doing it again. His play was a big reason the Raiders defense held the Colts scoreless for more than two quarters of this game.
When the Raiders brought in Matt Flynn, it was obvious to me that Rod Streater was an ideal fit in that offense. He proved in this game that he is just a very good receiver in any offense. It's about smarts and instincts and Streater uses both to be a great asset to this team. With Pryor at quarterback, the receivers must be aware when he is going to leave the pocket and make themselves available to him. Streater did that several times in the game. Twice on the opening drive he came back to the ball when Pryor was in trouble and needed a helping set of hands. The first catch went for 9 yards on the very first play of the game, the second was on third down and went for 18 yards to keep the drive alive. On the second drive, he reached down to scoop up a low pass from Pryor and didn't lose stride for an 18-yard gain. A few plays later, he was sent on an end around for 9 yards.
Late In the third quarter, on the Raiders second touchdown drive, Streater put himself in position to be the recipient of two passes after leaving the pocket. The first for 8 yards and the second came after Pryor scrambled to elude several tacklers and Streater was there for a 17-yard grab on third and ten. The Raiders would get a touchdown on the drive to take the lead to begin the fourth quarter.
This was a tough one. Pryor made a lot of mistakes in this game and he would be the first to tell you that. His deep passes continue to be inaccurate and float which resulted in just one completion and two interceptions. But when it came right down to it, it was his play that was the reason the Raiders were able to keep pace with the Colts in this game. Here are his key drives.
First drive: He escaped pressure on the first play and dumped it off to Rod Streater for nine yards. The next set of downs would have been the last but Pryor escaped pressure again to hit Rod Streater who came back for the pass. He got the first down again with a 5-yard read-option keeper followed by hitting Denarius Moore on a slant for 6 yards. But it all ended when he pulled what has become a Pryor signature of sorts - floating the ball into double coverage in the endzone for an easy interception. It was a great drive until that. Things got better from there.
Third drive: Started with him overthrowing Streater on a long pass. On second down, he drew the rush to him and hit Darren McFadden on a screen pass for 14 yards. A couple plays later, he kept the ball on a read option and picked up nine yards and a first down and on the next play he saw an opening and tucked it and ran for a 29-yard gain. Two plays later, they ran a sweep and Pryor picked up 13 on the ground. His final play went to Marcel Reece for nine yards and set the Raiders up in first and goal at the 2-yard line. They scored a touchdown after three straight runs.
We pick up the action in the third quarter with his sixth drive: A few plays in, Pryor keeps the ball on a read-option for a 9-yard gain. That was followed up by another Pryor signature - taking too long in the huddle. The Raiders were forced to burn a timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty. But Pryor made amends on the next play when he ran a bootleg and tucked it for a 26-yard run. That play put him in the Raiders record books. His 91 yards on the ground surpassed Rich Gannon (89) for the most QB single game rushing yards - and it was just the third quarter. The Raiders would move into chip shot field goal range and cut the deficit to 10-14.
Pryor's seventh drive was his best from my perspective. He started things with an 8-yard completion to Streater. Then on 2nd and 2 he escaped the pocket and was looking for a receiver along the right sideline. Then at the last possible moment he put his foot in the ground to leave the defender grasping at air and he ran by him for the first down. Two plays later it appeared he had thrown a 30-yard touchdown pass to Darren McFadden. Unfortunately it was overturned because McFadden couldn't keep his second foot inbounds. But the reversed call only prolonged the inevitable. Pryor strung together three great passes - all of which on third down - to score a touchdown on a 5-yard pass to Denarius Moore.
That touchdown would give the Raiders a 17-14 lead. The Colts would drive right back and take the lead again. That gave Pryor 5:20 to try and drive the Raiders to victory. He nearly did it too. He began the drive with a 7-yard scramble. Two plays laster, he found a wide open Jeron Mastrud for a 41-yard gain. Then a few plays later, on 4th and 9, with the game on the line, Pryor connects with Denrius Moore for a 21-yard gain to put the Raiders at first and goal at the 9-yard line. The next play was the Raiders' undoing when he was sacked for a 16-yard loss. One could argue Pryor should have thrown the ball away instead of taking such a long sack. But he has oncoming rushers on him from both sides so quickly, there wasn't much he could do. Running backwards also was not a good decision in hindsight.
Pryor passing numbers for the game were not great (19-29, 217 yards, 1 TD, 2 int). It was what he did with his feet that was most impressive. He was better passing on the run and improvising and finished with 112 yards on 13 carries. Dennis Allen has already named him the week two starter.
The Raiders' best drive of the day featured two key receptions from Denarius. The team was in third and ten to begin the fourth quarter, down 10-14. Then Pryor connected with Moore for a 12-yard reception to keep the drive alive. That drive was capped by a 5-yard hookup with Denarius for the touchdown to give the Raiders a 17-14 lead. The Colts came right back and retook the lead with a touchdown of their own which gave the Raiders one last shot. That shot meant going for it on 4th and 9 and Denarius found a crease to catch a 21-yard pass from Pryor which set the Raiders up in first and goal from the nine yard line. Unfortunately, the Raiders would lose most of that on the next play with the 16-yard sack of Pryor. Moore was targeted 7 times in the game with 5 catches for 46 yards and a touchdown. There were also no lapses on routes resulting in interceptions.
The highest rated offensive tackle in this year's preseason by Pro Football Focus, Pashos joined the team last week from the final roster cuts by the Redskins. No sooner did he suit up for the Raiders but rookie left tackle, Menelik Watson went down with a knee injury forcing the team to shift Khalif Barnes from right to left and start Pashos at right tackle. Despite Pryor scrambling often in this game, the pressure was not coming from the right side of the line as Pashos was holding his own.