Key Matchup: Raiders Quarterback vs. Broncos D-Line
Sep 23, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos defensive end Malik Jackson (97) and outside linebacker Wesley Woodyard (52) sack Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor (2) in the second quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Welcome back to the land of the living, Terrelle Pryor.
After a week filled with controversy about the Ohio State’s star return to the starting lineup, the Raiders are sticking with their decision to go with Pryor at quarterback over previous starter Matt McGloin, who went 1-6 in seven starts.
Despite the speculation that Oakland is going with Pryor hoping he fails in the David-vs-Goliath-type matchup Sunday against the AFC-leading Broncos, the switch does pose problems for a Denver defense that will have a limited pass rush due to the season-ending injury Von Miller suffered last week.
The Broncos successfully harassed, and injured, Pryor without Miller in week three, racking up three sacks and six quarterback hits in what was arguably the front four’s best game of the season.
If it was as simple as repeating the same game plan for Pryor this week, the Broncos could rest easy and coast into solidifying their conference’s No. 1 seed.
However, the Raiders have had time to study the tape and Pryor’s mobility, both in and out of the pocket, will present challenges Denver’s defense has seen already, yet hasn’t been able to successfully adjust to and defend for four quarters.
The good news is that Pryor may be the last mobile quarterback the Broncos face this year, if the team can avoid going against Andrew Luck and the sneakily agile Alex Smith in the playoffs.
Whether or not they see a quarterback like Pryor again isn’t what is important though. What’s monumental for Denver is the opportunity to find the right personnel on defense to go forward with in the postseason against a team that is perennially in limbo, and this year’s no different. .
The team has seen notable injuries at every single defensive positions this year, ranging from defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson to defensive end Derek Wolfe, who should return this week or in the team’s first playoff game.
Unfortunately, the injury bug hasn’t just hallowed out the defensive line. Along with Miller, linebackers Stewart Bradley and Wesley Woodyard have been hurt. In the secondary, safety Rahim Moore is done for the year and Champ Bailey has played in only three games thus far.
It’s hard to make out how significant all the injuries will be to the Broncos playoff run, but one thing is for sure — the Broncos defensive line must step it up if this unit is going to have a chance in January.
Pryor is the perfect target practice.
Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton needs to continue to be a leader in the trenches, while rookie Sylvester Williams emerges in place of Vickerson. In addition, Malik Jackson needs to provide rotational help to starters Shaun Phillips and Robert Ayers.
If they can find their way to the quarterback in week 17, then Pryor will have a long day and the Raiders will be moving on to a new project in 2014.
On the other hand, if Oakland’s line does a good enough job protecting their quarterback and he is allowed to scramble around and find open targets, it could send the Denver D-Line spiraling downward without confidence heading into the postseason.
This is a result nobody on the team, or in the stands, wants to see.
A hiccup against the erratic, yet mobile, Pryor could prove to be the precursor to another painful playoff loss. It’s key that this year’s team stay on track and builds forward to whatever everyone hopes is a prosperous 2014.
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