What you need to know: Raiders head coach Dennis Allen has decided on a starting quarterback, but he isn’t naming names.
“I'm not telling you,” Allen said. “But, yes. I know.”
The preseason’s over. The Raiders have a real game to prepare for and practice snaps to properly allocate. So Dennis, why the big secret? Is it Terrelle Pryor or Matt Flynn? What’s the harm in sharing?
Raider Nation desperately wants to know.
“You have to think about competitive reasons, too,” Allen after Thursday’s 22-6 exhibition loss to the Seatlle Seahawks. “We'll keep that in house and announce it at the appropriate time.”
So we’re left to debate the case of Pryor v. Flynn until Allen lets us in.
Pryor is the people’s choice. Check Twitter or the comments section of any Raiders story or a sports-talk radio show to figure that out.
Flynn was the coaches’ pick until Pryor’s breakout moment last week against Chicago. Allen had said the starting quarterback job was Flynn’s to lose.
Now here we are, just days before the regular-season opener at Indianapolis, mired in quarterback controversy.
Since Allen isn’t talking, let’s make a case for both guys.
In Pryor we trust: Terrelle Pryor (shown below, right) can do things Matt Flynn can’t. He can run with the ball, create big plays from nothing and improvise like few can.
It’s a given that Pryor’s upside is far greater. He has a cannon arm. His mechanics are vastly improved, as is his decision making.
While Pryor’s far from a finished product, he is the best fit for the Raiders as currently assembled. Playing behind a suspect offensive line, Pryor can run for his life. The Raiders have speed at wide receiver and Pryor can get the ball to them on deep routes.
He and offensive centerpiece Darren McFadden can work well together using misdirection that will give both players a leg up running the football.
The Raiders defense, despite recent improvements, is gave up points regularly this preseason. If you need someone to score quickly, Pryor’s your man.
And finally, the Raiders need to let Pryor play. They’ve spent nearly a decade without stability at quarterback. They have talent in Pryor that can’t be realized if he isn’t given a chance. They can find out what they have now, which will help them better decide what to do with next year’s first-round draft pick.
Matt Flynn should start: The 28-year old entered training camp as the leader of this offense. He still is.
That’s because a starting job isn’t won or lost in a single night. Flynn had a terrible game against Chicago. There’s no disputing that.
It’s also clear that Flynn’s been the better player throughout training camp. He performed well in practice (I know, that counts far less than game action), and was a more consistent player the first-team offense has worked with extensively.
Flynn (shown, below right) is also a better fit for this offense as originally constructed. He excels at short and intermediate passes. He thrives with timing routes that are such a big part of this scheme. He regularly hits players in stride, which allows for big plays from short throws.
Here’s a backwards thought. Flynn should start because Pryor could still be involved. There’s no reason for a special package designed for Flynn, who wouldn’t work as an accent piece. But, with Flynn running the offense, Pryor could offer an effective change of pace to the offense and give defenses an ancillary look to prepare for.
Should Flynn struggle early in the season, Pryor would be better prepared than he is right now. He would already be involved in the offense and have more time to progress as a quarterback without the burden of playing every snap.
In conclusion: A case can be made for both players because neither quarterback took firm control of the job. Allen’s decision is made. A pronouncement is all that remains in the biggest decision of this preseason.
Lasting impact: The run defense finally took a step forward. After getting manhandled last week, the Raiders controlled the running game.
Seattle Starter Marshawn Lynch didn’t play. Can’t ignore that. But the Raiders held Seattle to 1.7 yards per carry over 32 attempts, a number to be proud of regardless.
Credit belongs to defensive tackle Pat Sims, who made the run defense tick. He was a disruptive force on the inside and allowed those around him to make sure tackles.
“Pat is going to be a guy that can help us in our run defense and really shore us up on the inside,” Allen said. “This was the first time where we were able to get our starting defensive line playing together and I thought we did a nice job of stopping the run. We were able to get to the quarterback at some points, which was good to see.”
The Raiders had two sacks, seven quarterback hits and 11 tackles for a loss, a vast improvement over weeks past. Rushers weren’t leaking outside because cutback lanes weren’t available.
A solid defensive effort in a preseason finale doesn’t prove the run defense is fixed, but it’s an encouraging sign for a front seven in desperate need of one.
Play of the Game: Terrelle Pryor has made better plays this preseason, but his 25-yard scramble was the best of Thursday’s bunch.
He slowed down a smidge, forced his pursuer to take a false angle before accelerating past him and skating down the sideline for a big gain.
The play showed what Pryor offers that Flynn can’t, an ability to create big plays out of nothing.
Player of the Game: Sims gets the game ball. He transformed the defensive front by collapsing pockets, flushing quarterbacks and forcing running backs to adjust in his Raiders debut.
He didn’t have a tackle – credit him for two quarterback hits – but he did what good interior defensive linemen do. He made those around him better. The Raiders looked comfortable defending the run and stood a chance rushing the passer. The big man in the middle is a major reason why.
Unsung Hero: David Bass played his best game at the right time. The rookie defensive end is fighting for a spot on the 53-man roster, and may have earned it against the Seahawks. He had four tackles, one for a loss, and a sack in a solid all-around outing.
Bass has push-rush ability, but he showed well against the run. He made two stylish stops on runs up the middle using speed from the outside. The Raiders could use an edge rusher like Bass, who can provide a spark late in games when opponents wear down.
Looking good: Menelik Watson made his first start at left tackle, yet fared surprisingly well under duress. He showed awareness and technical savvy well beyond his experience level against the Seahawks defense. He rarely got beat one-on-one and showed potential easily realized with increased experience.
[RELATED: Watson makes strong debut at LT for Raiders]
Whether he’s able to start right away or not, Watson seems to be a valuable tool and an emerging presence along the offensive line. He’s committed to perfecting his craft, conscious of his mistakes and a surprisingly quick study.
Playing offensive tackle just comes naturally to me,” Watson said. “I really enjoy the challenge of matching wits and strength with an opponent. The goal is to be the best, and I’m a long way off from that. I look forward to the hard work and to improving myself every day.”
Needs Improvement: The receiving corps needs to be better. All around. Denarius Moore was invisible yet again, playing without a reception despite three targets. Jacoby Ford seems to be shaking off rust on offense, as he was last week. He’s not in position to make big plays when the ball is thrown. Rod Streater is consistent, but he can’t do it all by himself.
The group didn’t help put Pryor’s best foot forward, and looks average a best despite talent at every turn.
What we’ve seen from McFadden (shown, above right): Not much. The Raiders running back hasn’t played in two weeks, and was a healthy scratch against the Seahawks.
The mission was to keep their bell cow healthy, and that was accomplished. He gained little momentum over nine carries and 22 yards, but he doesn’t need much heading into his sixth NFL season.
His absence makes it tough to grade this offense heading into the regular season, considering the scheme is built around giving him the football. He is the Raiders' best hope to succeed, so it makes sense to be cautious with him when the games don’t count.
Punting battle wrapped up: As with the quarterbacks, Allen wouldn’t reveal any spoilers here. He said he’s chosen to keep Marquette King (shown, below right) or Chris Kluwe and cut the other, but he wouldn’t elaborate.
Thursday offered few definitive clues. Kluwe got an extra punt but had just a 31.5-yard net average. King’s only attempt went farther. Kluwe again showed more directional ability, but he hasn’t wowed at any point this preseason.
He doesn’t have King’s leg strength or his potential, yet the battle remained close all preseason long.
“I think it’s been a good competition,” Allen said. “Both guys have done some good things. I’ll announce who we’re going with at the appropriate time.”
Injury Concerns: The Raiders have few, if any. They made it out of the preseason finale unscathed. Offensive tackle Willie Smith suffered a lower back injury, but it’s highly unlikely he’ll make the team.
Several key players didn’t participate in Thursday’s game, but none save tight end David Ausberry (shoulder) would be considered a health risk.
Running back Darren McFadden was a healthy scratch. Center Stefen Wisniewski, right tackle Khalif Barnes and fullback Marcel Reece didn’t play because Allen wanted to evaluate other players.
Receiver Brice Butler (hamstring), Flynn (elbow) and Sio Moore (toe) have minor injuries that shouldn’t keep them from practicing next week.
Quote of the day: “I’m not telling you, but yes.”
--Raiders coach Dennis Allen on if he knows who the Raiders starting quarterback will be.
Looking ahead: At long last, the Raiders have completed the preseason. They must trim the roster from 75 to 53 by Saturday at 3 p.m. They’ll take Sunday off and start preparations for the regular-season opener on Sept. 8 at Indianapolis. At some point before then, the Raiders will announce their starting quarterback and their starting left tackle and form a steady rotation at defensive line and linebacker.