Is Terrelle Pryor Oakland’s Future at QB?

Terrelle Pryor is a bit of an enigma. At Ohio State he was an athletic quarterback that was wrapped in controversy before he left. Off the field, there were concerns about his maturity and if his heart was really in the game. On the field, NFL scouts wondered if his passing skills could be refined enough to make it at the next level.

One thing everyone agreed on was that Pryor was a physical specimen. At 6’4” tall and 234 lbs., Pryor is the prototypical size that NFL teams look for. His legs were his most attractive quality as a quarterback in college. He could outrun most defenders and get to the edge with relative ease. He would cause defenders to take bad angles due to underestimating his speed.

But in the NFL, a quarterback must be able to make throws into tight windows from the pocket or else. The man coverage is tighter and the windows in zone coverage are smaller than in college football. Pryor also won’t benefit from having a superiorly talented team as he did while at OSU – especially after being selected by the Oakland Raiders in the 3rd round of the supplemental draft.

In 2012, Terrelle Pryor’s second season, he played in 3 games, starting in 1. He completed 14 of 30 passes for a 46.7% completion rate. He threw for 155 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception. That equals out to 5.0 average yards per attempt in a very insignificant sample size.

Pryor, in his third season, has taken over as the full-time quarterback, after the Raiders coaching staff figured out that new addition Matt Flynn (surprise!) wasn’t the answer. The stats have improved in some areas and worsened in others. Pryor is completing 63.1% of his passes at an average of 5.9 yards per attempt. It’s a very good thing that his passes are going farther downfield and he is completing more of his passes. This usually indicates significant growth of a quarterback. The problem is that Pryor has thrown 7 interceptions to only 5 touchdown passes. He’s added 1 rushing touchdown with his legs.

The surface stats indicate an overall improvement in efficiency but the turnover rate is still something to be concerned about. But those are all effects of what goes on on the field. Let’s go to the film to take a look at the player that Terrelle Pryor is right now.

The Skills

It’s no secret that Terrelle Pryor is a phenomenal athlete. In college he outran pretty much everyone on the field. Did that translate to the NFL?

Pryor run presnap

This is the presnap look for what is going to be a read option play. The Chargers are showing significant pressure from the middle and left side of the offensive formation. Pryor doesn’t check out of the play against a front that is in position to blow up the play.

Pryor run mesh point

Here is the mesh point (the point where Pryor has to decide to hand it off or pull the ball and run it himself) and you can see the play is blown up from the start. If Pryor hands off the ball to running back Rashad Jennings, Jennings would be tackled immediately. If Pryor pulls the ball, his run is supposed to go to the left side, which now has 2 unblocked defenders that can contain him. Disaster is about to strike.

Pryor run direction change

This is where Pryor’s athleticism takes over. He’s faced with the 2 unblocked defenders. Instead of running right into them, he’s about to plant, do a 180, and turn back to the right side of the field. This play should be dead in the water but Pryor’s running instincts, athleticism, and speed are now going to give him a shot to get out of a bad play.

Pryor run zoom out The yellow arrow shows where Pryor just came from after his change of direction in the face of 2 defenders. He was able to get around the defender that met Jennings at the mesh point with a little help from Jennings’ block. Now he has 2 more defenders to beat to get to the edge.  The defender standing on the 15-yard line has a great angle. He can cut off Pryor by containing him to the inside where he has help.

Pryor run finish

The problem is that the defender underestimates Pryor’s speed and Pryor gets the edge around him. Pryor gets past him and turns a play that was blown up in the backfield into a first down with his athleticism.

One of the problems with quarterbacks who have the type of athleticism that Pryor has is that they tend to rely on it a little excessively and leave the pocket earlier than they should and miss opportunities downfield because of it. Pryor does a fair – not great – job of staying in the pocket and using his legs only when it’s truly beneficial.

In the pocket, Terrelle Pryor has a good arm. It’s not a cannon but it’s certainly enough to make all the throws. The issue with Pryor’s arm is that he’s not particularly accurate. His accuracy has actually improved significantly since I remember watching him in college. He could hit receivers through large windows and when they got good separation. He can still do that but now struggles more with ball placement more than the ability to throw in smaller windows.

Pryor relies heavily on his two best receivers, who have very good hands, to haul in passes that are a little off the mark. This throw to Rod Streater is a good example.

Streater stretch grab broadcast Streater stretch grab - low

Here are two screen shots of the same throw to Streater. Streater had to fully extend while leaving his feet on a slant that was high and far to the inside. It was the right throw by Pryor and the vicinity is good but Streater has to make a fantastic catch to haul in a 3rd down pass at the 1st down marker. With a good throw, Streater could have caught this and ran past the marker easily. Ball placement is something Pryor will probably always struggle with.

Reads

One of the toughest aspects of being a quarterback to grasp is making reads. This includes presnap and postsnap reads that a QB must make to help him make the correct decision in a split second. The most refined quarterbacks – Peyton, Brees, Brady, Rodgers – are the best at this. They see what the defense is going to do before they do it and understand how the offensive play call plays into the defensive play.

Pryor still has problems recognizing both presnap and postsnap what he needs to do with the ball. As in the read option play before, that was probably a play that Pryor should have checked out of and into something else. Instead, he was lucky that his athleticism was able to save a bad play.

A good example of Pryor’s lack of understanding of reads came against the Chargers in week 5.

Poor Read Presnap

One of the problems with Pryor is that he’s only a half field reader (more on that later). In this play, his head will swing to the left and the safety automatically knows that’s where the play is going. The outside receiver is going to be Pryor’s target here. He’ll stem his route inside and then get upfield before planting on a comeback route. The idea is for the receiver to get the cornerback on his outside hip, run him upfield, and then stick his foot in the ground and sharply come back to the QB. The cornerback’s momentum should carry him farther upfield creating the necessary separation for an easy throw.

However, that’s not how the play works out.

Poor read ball out

At this point, the ball is out of Pryor’s hand. As you can see, the defender is not on the receiver’s outside hip. Instead he’s inside and in a trail position. This is exactly where the offense doesn’t want the cornerback to be. If he gets his head around on the ball, this is an interception. Yet Pryor has already released the ball. The receiver makes his cut and comes back to the ball, and luckily the defender never gets his head around and the pass falls incomplete.

If this were a more advanced quarterback with more reps within this offense, he and the receiver would have the liberty to extend this route and turn it into a go route. With the pressure in Pryor’s face, the adjusted play probably would have ended an in an incompletion as well, but with the defender in a trail position it’s a much better option than throwing the comeback route.

The Offensive Scheme

Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson runs an offense that I’m very familiar with due to my time with him while in Tampa Bay. He runs a west coast style of offense and he does a good job of understanding the tools in his toolbox. He knows what Pryor is and what he isn’t and he plays to Pryor’s strengths.

At its most basic form, this is a timing and rhythm offense that has a strong running element to it that includes the quarterback in the run game.  There are a lot of slants, hooks, comebacks, and dumpoffs. They only run deeper routes at calculated points and are usually fairly successful with them. The offense isn’t necessarily condensed, but Olson gives Pryor defined reads off of 3 and 5 step drops so that he doesn’t have to make long progression reads.

Another element to this offense is confining reads. Olson doesn’t ask Pryor to read from sideline to sideline. Instead he calls route combinations that run receivers to the same side of the field so Pryor has more receivers within his field of vision. He’ll also run crossing routes right in front of Pryor’s face so that if the receiver gets free and gets separation then Pryor can hit him in stride and let him run after the catch.

One way that Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson will help Pryor out is by moving the pocket or rolling Pryor out. This will reduce the amount of the field he has to read and also will allow Pryor a 2-way option to throw or run if the defense doesn’t react quickly enough to the roll out. It’s giving Pryor options while also reducing the amount of information he has to process.

Rollout presnap

Here are the routes for a Pryor rollout. This is a play they call a few different times a game out of a couple of different formations. Pryor will fake the hand off and then rollout to his right. You see all of the options are on one side of the field which simplify the read for Pryor.

Rollout start of roll Here is the play as it starts to develop. Pryor has begun his rollout. The tight end to the near side heads to the flat. The receiver at the bottom of the screen runs full sprint upfield to drive on the cornerback who is playing in off-man coverage.

Rollout options Decision time. Pryor now has his options in front of him and must make his decision. Option 1, the tight end in the flat, is covered pretty well by Troy Polamalu. Option 2, the receiver running the deep hook, has his separation. A good throw and this is an easy first down. Option 3, the tight end coming across the field, is slow to get to his spot due to a good jam by the linebacker and isn’t a real option at this point. Pryor’s 4th option is to run (dotted line) through the vacant area. The Steelers have pursued this play fairly well and Polamalu can close from his current position as well.

Rollout throw

Pryor makes the correct choice in throwing to his second option, the receiver on the deep hitch. Even though Pryor is rolling out, this shouldn’t be a tough throw. Pryor’s ball placement is high and even though the receiver catches the ball, the throw drags him out of bounds for an incompletion.

This is a good example of Olson reducing the information Pryor has to process to allow him to find the best option. Pryor makes the correct read but can’t execute the throw for an easy first down.

The Verdict

The easy answer is: it’s still too early. The amount of Pryor’s progression under his new offensive coordinator is remarkable. He’s been much more efficient due to being put into better situations but he’s also improved his decision making.

The issue that I saw as I progressed through his games on film this season is that defenses are adjusting more and more each week to Pryor and this offense. They make good adjustments at halftime and the offense hesitates a bit. Oakland hasn’t scored in the 2nd half in either of their last two games. On a week to week basis, teams are adjusting, as well. Pryor’s completions have dropped and he’s had to rely on his running more than the offense is built for. He also hasn’t been as effective running the ball. Outside of his 93-yard run in the 1st quarter against the Steelers, Pryor ran 8 times for 13 yards.

The offensive line is probably hampering Pryor’s progression a little at this point, but they haven’t been horrible. According to Pro Football Focus, the Raiders’ offensive line is 18th in pass blocking efficiency, which means they’re average. Pryor has played well under pressure as PFF grades him as 4th in completion percentage and 10th in accuracy percentage when under pressure.

There’s no doubt that Pryor has improved and still has room to continue progressing as a quarterback. The problem is that he’s still a work in progress. But with teams getting more and more film on the quarterback, I think his performances will begin to regress – it looks like they already may have started regressing. If this continues to happen, then the Raiders will be selecting a quarterback with their first pick near the top of the 2014 draft in May.

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2 Responses to Is Terrelle Pryor Oakland’s Future at QB?

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