Sep 8, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Oakland Raiders offensive tackle Menelik Watson (71) celebrates a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Colts won 21-17. Mandatory Credit: Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Three Positives The Oakland Raiders Can Take From The Season Opener

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The Oakland Raiders are coming off a near upset of the Indianapolis Colts. The Raiders were within eight yards of pulling off the impressive upset of the playoff caliber Colts. After many experts called the Raiders one of the worst teams in the league, they showed that they are capable of hanging and competing with anyone.

Their solid performance has fans thinking that the light at the end of the tunnel is a lot closer than previously thought. Terrelle Pryor’s playmaking ability was on full display in Indy, as he consistently moved the team down the field and kept plays alive with his legs. He was a major reasons the Raiders almost pulled off the upset. The defense also looked extremely sharp following a shaky start, as they held to Colts to four straight non-scoring drives.

The Raiders played an overly solid game and the fans should be impressed by what they saw, but the team was not perfect and has some flaws that need to be fixed to take this team to the next level. Let’s take a look at the positives and the negatives from their season opener against the Colts.

1. Pryor looked solid as the starting quarterback:
Pryor was the story of the game, as he went 19 for 29 for 217 yards for one touchdown and two interceptions. On the ground, Pryor added 112 yards on 13 carries. Pryor was the spark plug for the offense, as the running game other than Pryor faltered about and failed to make much of an impact. His feet helped to consistently moved the chains, which helped to make an impact in the passing game.

Pryor used his mobility to move around in the pocket and keep plays alive. The offensive line did not have a great game, but they only allowed one sack and a lot of that is on Pryor moving away from pressure. He also allowed his receivers to find holes in the coverage, which would allow for yards after the catch.

Pryor completed 65.5 percent of his passes, as he looked sharp on short and intermediate throws. He did not show great accuracy, but it was much improved over what he featured in the past. Most of his problems seem to be mechanical issues and seem easily repairable, but it is going to take time and could have some downs to go along with the ups.

The only real negatives for his performance were his inability to challenge the Colts deep to open up the running game and his decision making ability that led to two turnovers in the red zone. Pryor did not really challenge the Colts deep and when he did the ball was underthrown or not thrown accurately. This allowed the Colts to flood the box and take away McFadden in the running game. Pryor also has to work on his decision making. He has a tendency to force throws into coverage, especially in the end zone. It was apparent in the preseason and it showed up in week one. He needs to be careful with the ball, especially with the Raiders in a position to score points. His two interceptions took at least six points off the board.

Overall, Pryor’s performance earns him an up arrow and the right to be the team’s starting quarterback for immediate future.

2. The defense looked much improved:
The Raiders faced a top-10 offense from last season for their season debut and came up with a solid performance. Last season, the Colts averaged 362.4 yards per game and the Raiders’ defense held the Colts 274 yards of total offense. The Raiders held the Colts and Andrew Luck to just 147 net passing yards, which was over 100 yards less than their season average from last year. The improvement in the pass defense was due to a much more potent pass rush.

The Raiders we able to create pressure more often than last year and it paid off. The Raiders racked up four sack from four different players and end the night with eight hits on the quarterback. The Raiders’ secondary has a lot more talent this year and the key is to generate more pass rush and they showed improvement in week one. If the pass rush continues, the Raiders could be much stronger on defense.

The Raiders had a shaky start to they game, as they gave up 158 yards on two touchdown scoring drives by the Colts on their first two possessions. A lot of it was due to Luck, as he completed 11 straight passes to start the game. The Raiders stiffened after that second touchdown and forced the Colts to punt three straight times and forced a turnover on downs right after. The second half defense was much improved and they made an adjustment to the Colts passing attack. Luck went 7 for 11 for only 51 yards in the second half.

The areas of improvement would the inability to consistently stop the run and a failure to create any turnovers. The Raiders’ run defense looks like it could be suspect again this season, as they allowed 127 yards on 26 carries for a 4.9 yards per rush average. The Colts are not a strong running team, as they finished in the bottom third of the league last season, and the were able to pick up decent chunks of yards against the defense. The Raiders also failed to create any turnovers, which is key to this team’s success. It will provide the offense with more chances to put points on the board, especially with the way they were able to move the ball in the opener. The Raiders lost the turnover battle two to zero, which looms large in a close game.

The defense kept the team in the game, while the offense found its rhythm and gave the Raiders a chance to win this game.

3. The Raiders were competitive until the end:
The Raiders were tabbed to open the season against a legitimate playoff contender in the Indianapolis Colts. Many experts felt that the Colts would take this one easy against a struggling Raiders’ squad. They felt that the Colts offense would be able to walk up and down the field against the Raiders’ rebuilt defense and would put the game out of reach for the Raiders’ anemic offense.

It looked like a strong possibility at the start of the game. The Raiders threw an interception in the end zone and punted on a five play drive on their first two possessions, while the Colts scored what looked like two easy touchdowns on their first two possessions.

Then the Raiders were able to put together an impressive 11 play, 85 yards drive, which ended in a one yard touchdown run by McFadden. That drive seemed to energize this Raiders team, especially the defense. The Raiders missed a golden opportunity to close the gap before half, as Sebastian Janikowski missed a 48 yard field goal to pull the Raiders to within four points.

The offense looked much stronger in the second half as they mounted a quick comeback. The Raiders put up points on their first two drives of the second half with a field goal and a touchdown, which gave the Raiders a three point lead. The Raiders then came within eight yards of answering back with a score to retake the lead at the end of the game.

It was an impressive display of resiliency, as the Raiders were able to bounce back from a rough start and make the correct adjustments to have a real shot at winning this game. It was the type of game the Raiders would look dead in the water after two quarters and the Colts would cruise to an easy victory. This team stood tall and kept the game close and had a legitimate chance to win the game, as they had the Colts on their heels.

Moral victories are tough to swallow in losses, because you still lost the game. This team is young and a performance like this is key to their season. It instills confidence in a young squad and proves to them that they can hang and compete with playoff caliber teams. The first step is learning to keep games competitive and then learning how to close out games. This experience will pay off big, as they will now know what it takes to close out potential playoff teams on the road. Raiders’ fans should be proud of their team and have a sense of hope that they can put it all together during the season.

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Tags: NFL Oakland Raiders Terrelle Pryor

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