Will Pryor Experience Help Or Hurt Colts?
By Corbin Smith
Winning is everything in the NFL, and the Indianapolis Colts found a way to hang on against a well-prepared Oakland Raiders squad yesterday for a 21-17 victory at Lucas Oil Stadium. Colts head coach Chuck Pagano will surely take a 1-0 start, but plenty of concerns emerged from this game, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Oakland entered the season opener with an inexperienced defense, injury-riddled offensive line and most importantly, an unproven quarterback in Terrelle Pryor running the show on offense. Many felt the Colts would annihilate the young Raiders, and after scoring two quick touchdowns early, it looked like Indianapolis would do just that. Andrew Luck led two brilliant drives that ended with touchdown passes to star receiver Reggie Wayne and rising tight end Dwayne Allen to put the Colts up 14-0 during the early stages of the 2nd quarter, and it looked like a potential blowout was brewing.
However, Oakland had shown some success moving the football on the team's first drive before Pryor lofted a pass into the hands of Colts corner Greg Toler in the endzone, and Pryor's athletic prowess ended up giving Pagano's defense major fits all afternoon. Shortly after Luck hit Allen to put Indianapolis up two scores, the ex-Ohio State star marched Oakland downfield using his legs, as he ran for 51 yards on a drive that concluded with a one yard touchdown plunge by Darren McFadden. He then broke a 26 yard scramble on Oakland's first possession of the second half that led to an eventual Sebastian Janikowski field goal to draw the Raiders within four.
While Oakland continued to find success moving the football against Indianapolis, Luck and the offense bogged down. The Colts struggled to sustain drives after putting touchdowns on the board during the team's first two possessions, and poorly timed sacks ended up squandering scoring opportunities in the second half. When the Colts had advanced the ball to Oakland's 43 yard line and faced a 4th and 1, Pagano opted to go for it, but Raiders defensive end Jason Hunter chased Luck all the way back to the Colts 44 yard line for a critical sack.
Oakland used to momentum gained on the fourth down stop to take a 17-14 lead on a quick slant from Pryor to receiver Denarius Moore, and suddenly the heavily-favored Colts were in big trouble. But Luck continued a trend from last season, as the 2nd year quarterback put the Colts on his back and ended up darting into the endzone for a 19 yard touchdown scramble of his own with a little over five minutes remaining in the game. With that much time left on the game clock, Oakland had time for a game-winning drive of its own, and Pryor showed great resiliency leading the Raiders all the way to the Indianapolis 8 yard line.
The Colts buckled down and Robert Mathis ended up corralling Pryor for a 16 yard loss, and the sack ended up being the major turning point Indianapolis needed to survive and avoid an opening week disaster. After underthrowing a pass on 2nd and goal, Pryor ended up making a bad read and Antoine Bethea made a game-clinching interception inside the 5 yard line. The defense finally stood up and made a stand when it needed it most, but Oakland showed much greater fight than intially expected and deserves credit for giving the Colts a battle. If not for a few errant passes that cost Oakland precious points, Pryor would have been able to help his team pull the massive upset.
Indianapolis found a way to win, but Pagano has to be quite concerned about how poorly his defense played against an underwhelming Raiders team.
Pagano credited Oakland for putting together a strong game plan, saying, “We knew he was going to be a nightmare and he was. Both running the read option and scrambling around. That’s why he’s a starting quarterback in the National Football League.”
While the Raiders deserve plenty of props for effectively utilizing their young quarterback’s skill set, the Colts inability to stop Pryor from running all over the place and scrambling for big chunks of yardage could foreshadow major problems looming in the future. With San Francisco and Seattle both on the schedule in coming weeks, the team will face Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson, two star quarterbacks who possess superior throwing ability compared to Pryor and also play for teams with much better supporting casts. If the Colts think stopping Pryor was a nightmare, imagine how much fun the defense will have in those future matchups.
As Pagano reiterated during his post-game press conference, the NFL is a league of unknowns. Oakland came to Indianapolis with many expecting them to get blown out, but Dennis Allen had his team ready to play and they nearly pulled off the upset. The Colts defense came together and made a key stop when the team needed it most and helped Indianapolis salvage a game they couldn’t afford to lose. A win is a win in the NFL, and yesterday was just a one game sample. Despite all the struggles, the Colts managed to hold Oakland to just 17 points. Maybe the team will learn from this experience and Pryor’s success will help Indianapolis prepare for other mobile quarterbacks later in the season.
Don’t be surprised, however, if this serves as a bad omen for things to come.