Oct 13, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor (2) is chased by Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston (50) in the second half at Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City won the game 24-7. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Oakland Raiders: Back to the Bay with Rory Anderson: Bye Week Reflections

Back to the Bay with Rory Anderson is a column that comes out every Thursday from the cohost of the Just Blog Baby Podcast. Listen to Rory twice a week on BlogTalkRadio.com or follow him on Twitter @holistic_pickle (he knows the name is silly, you don’t have to tell him)

You know what could have made the Chiefs game on Sunday even worse for me as I watched and reviewed the tape? Seeing the Condiments (my name for the Chiefs) wearing red pants. Thank God they didn’t put on those hideous ketchup colored yoga pants and instead went with the traditional mayonnaise style pants. Or is it ranch dressing? I really have struggled deciding whether or not it should be mayo or ranch. I guess if we take it from a hamburger standpoint, I doubt anyone is going to mix ketchup and mustard with ranch dressing so mayo makes sense. That goes for hot dogs as well. However, if we are looking at trying to cover a greater range condiment choices ranch dressing would make sense. Hold on, doesn’t ranch dressing have little black dots in it? Or is that Caesar dressing?

I hope you got a chuckle out of that, I kind of enjoyed writing it since I know condiment humor has a lot of legs and can really be used in a diverse fashion…In all honesty, what we witnessed on Sunday was the absolute worst case scenario playing itself live for all of us to watch. It was tough to see the Raiders struggle the way they did and really get reduced to looking like an overwhelmed FCS team that did not know how to handle the noise of the Big House in Anne Arbor or the 12th man in College Station, Texas. Luckily for the Raiders, the bye week is coming at the perfect time and it is setting this team up with an opportunity to regroup and refocus with some winnable games ahead and a fairly weak AFC.

Terrelle Pryor

I wrote in last week’s BTTB that the Raiders need to avoid pretending that the offense of this team flows through anyone else than Terrelle Pryor. This is the negative side of that concept. When your quarterback is what makes your offense go and he is struggling, the offense is going to struggle. Regardless, this is the way of NFL franchises and there is not another Raider on the offense that affects the defense more than Pryor.

Terrelle looked off from his very first throw and although there were a few spurts where we saw glimpses of the magic we have seen in previous weeks, he simply was not the same quarterback. It was pretty clear watching the tape that the noise got to him early and often. He struggle to get play calls in all game and the offensive line had issues making the necessary adjustments. This was only made worse in the second half when it all started to unravel and the defense was able to pin its ears back and rush him with reckless abandon.

The biggest difference I saw on tape was the immense regression in Pryor’s mechanics. His feet were all over the place and he seemingly reverted back to some terrible habits that were noticeable in past years. His feet were constantly jittery, he rarely planted and drove the ball, and he threw off his back foot several times. His deep balls in this game were ugly to be kind. Frankly, he looked like a rookie that was overwhelmed and hung out to dry by a severely beat up offensive line.

There were three main takeaways for me that really described Pryor’s regression in this game. First, there are the deep balls. We saw last week against the Chargers, Terrelle Pryor was able to throw some beautiful deep balls especially the one to Streater that went for a touchdown. In this game his throws were inconsistent deep and he was as accurate as a shotgun from 50 yards away. The results of his deep throws were mixed, but each of them were poor due to his feet being all over the place and his left shoulder opening up too early causing the passes to float. If there was one positive, it was pretty impressive to throw a ball 50 yards using all arm since his legs weren’t involved or used correctly.

Decision making was also a huge issue for me in this game. Early on when the offensive line was healthy and the Raiders had the lead, he was getting the ball out quickly for the most part and had a rhythm even if it wasn’t pretty all the time. In the second half he had several poor read option runs, he threw off his back foot while backpedaling for the pick six, and he was indecisive. In fairness to Terrelle Pryor, this was only his fifth NFL start and even though this is his third year, in many regards he is still a rookie. There is a lot of inconsistency with this offense and when even more offensive lineman get injured, especially the center, and the team gets down in a crazy environment, young players tend to try to do too much and they end up making mistakes. I expect these sorts of games from Pryor; it is a natural part of the process of learning to be an NFL quarterback.

Lastly, there were the sacks. Yes this offensive line got beat like a drum especially later in the game, however there were five instances where Pryor could have avoided the sack by throwing the ball away and he did not. This has been an issue since day one with Pryor and it seems to justify the Ben Roethlisberger comparison. Early in Ben’s carrier he would have this terrible tendency to scramble, try to make a play, and if nothing was there he would eat a sack or scramble out of bounds. What he learned which is what Pryor needs to learn, is just flip that ball out of bounds when you leave the pocket and you see nothing downfield. The offensive line struggled mightily in this game, but so did Pryor.

The Defense

I am very excited by the progress I continue to see from this defense. For the most part, Jamal Charles was held in check, Dwayne Bowe did very little, and the defense was able to get pressure without needing dramatic defensive back blitzes and six man rushes. In fact there were even a few instances when the Raiders were able to rush four and create pressure. At this point I want to highlight a few notable performances.

Sio Moore recorded his first sack on the first drive of this game. He was in a four man rush set and he took on fellow rookie and starting right tackle Eric Fisher, pushed him back on an initial bull rush and then was able to use his hands to get off Fisher’s block while cutting across his face getting a great shot in on Alex Smith. It was a textbook sack off the bull rush and he looked very smooth in doing it. Sio has been inconsistent at times with his play and he hasn’t made a huge impact yet as I thought he would have, but that is mostly due to the play of Kevin Burnett at the will linebacker position. He really is a vacuum making play after play for this linebacker corps. Combine that with the immense amount of nickel that this defense has played and it leave little opportunity for Sio. I do think this is the sort of play that can get him “activated” more frequently and could be in on more pass rushing situations as a pass rusher not a coverage guy.
Did you know that on 38 snaps Tracy Porter was thrown at four times and he allowed a whopping zero receptions? Yup, zero receptions. That is pretty impressive even if the Chiefs wide receivers outside of Dwayne Bowe are not that talented. In this game the Raiders played some press coverage and although it wasn’t like watching Hayes and Haynes with their version on tight press coverage, it was enough to really throw off Alex Smith. Combine the sort of coverage that Porter had with the fact that on 20 pressures Smith only completed three passes for 33 yards, and you have a really solid game.

Nick Roach to me was also a bright spot to watch. I really enjoyed seeing him get his first sack because he has manned and held down the middle of this defense admirably and done so in a way that is old school. He isn’t a big talker; instead he is a guy that plays his heart out and leads by example. In this game not only did he record his first sack, but he also led the team with seven tackles. It really was a complete game for Nick Roach and it is great to see a guy in the middle with his head screwed on right making plays and flowing to the ball consistently.

Looking Forward

There really isn’t a lot to take out of this game. This game is similar to the Broncos game where certain players need to watch the tape once, burn it, make some mental notes, and go back to getting better. In my mind the Chiefs are not as good as their record shows them to be. Much of the failure for the Raiders lies at the banged up offensive line and the crowd noise. Terrelle Pryor simply was not prepared for what he was going to encounter at Arrowhead even though the coaches had the practice field flooded with crowd noise to try and simulate the conditions.

The way a team defeats crowd noise is either by leading which was short lived for Oakland, or by running the silent count. This however becomes very difficult when your backup center gets hurt during the game and you or forced to slide your right guard into center and then later your backup right tackle gets injured forcing you to put it another backup who did not practice with the first team all week. On a side note, this is two weeks in a row that Matt McCants has put together a solid performance and deserves to be recognized. That was an unheralded find that Reggie McKenzie will get no credit for, although he deserves it.

Once Gurode got hurt and the Raiders got behind you could see the struggles begin. The false starts began and never ceased to end and the pressure started to come from all directions. This really is the worst thing that could happen for a team that was essentially using its third string left tackle, third string left guard, third string center, third string right guard, and fourth string right tackle. How can you honestly expect a team to succeed with that level of absolute destruction on the offensive line? To make it even worse, there has been no consistency in the personnel meaning the line has not been able to grow together all season. It would be one thing to simply have bad personnel on the offensive line because you can cover that up with teamwork, fluidity, and scheme, but when you are not only a line lacking talent, but also lacking consistency, it is an entirely different monster.

The Raiders will come off the bye week with back to back home games against the Steelers and the Eagles, followed up by being away at Giants then Texans, Titans at home, at Cowboys, at Jets, Chiefs at home, at the Chargers, and then Broncos at home. The Steelers are a mess this season and although I believe they are better than they have shown, the Raiders have had recent success against Ben Roethlisberger and that old defense. I have a lot of skepticism about the Eagles and frankly I am not impressed with their offense which isn’t even complicated it is just run quickly and their defense is abysmal. After that every team has serious flaws and is not significantly better than the Raiders. What I am getting at is, the Raiders have a legitimate opportunity coming out of the bye week to go on a bit of winning streak if they can play consistent football. Having two home games right after the bye is very advantageous because it allows for the Raiders to set the tone for the second half of the season in Oakland.

Furthermore, the Raiders are continuing to get healthy. It sounds like Stefan Wisniewski should be good to practice and likely play against the Steelers. Tyvon Branch has made significant progress on his lower leg injury and may start practicing soon. Jared Veldheer can be activated week nine and that is a distinct possibility, while Menelik Watson may not be back for week the Steelers game. At least if he is not back, Tony Pashos will be healthy and rested and he has had a solid season up until the Chiefs game. Let us not forget Miles Burris who may begin to practice next week, but I think the Eagles game is more likely for him to be available. All in all, having the starting center back for week eight will be significant, and if the Raiders get their starting tackles back week nine, things could be looking up.

I am still very optimistic about the Raiders and although I believe the second half of the season they will show that they are a team that is on the upswing, I do not believe the Raiders will have a winning season or make the playoffs. I will say this; it may only take nine wins to make the playoffs this season and I can honestly see them beating every team they face in the second half of the season except the Broncos (unless they rest players). Asking the Raiders to win seven of the last ten games is tough, but it isn’t impossible nor is it crazy. Believe it or not, the Raiders may just have a shot at the wildcard IF they can rattle off some wins in a row. We said it best on the podcast, cautious optimism.

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