Terrelle Pryor is a different type of quarterback, one who puts pressure on a defense with his superior athleticism and because of his added ability as a dangerous runner. This is the first time the Eagles will face a true, fully healthy, dual-threat at the position, and it might be just the most unique challenge they deal with on defense all season.
"Pryor is a phenomenal athlete," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said."The more film you watch, he makes you say 'wow' a lot of times with his escapability. We've got our hands full this week with trying to keep him contained and really limiting his playmaking ability, which is tough to do because he's such a versatile athlete. He's big, he's strong, he can move, he can throw the ball and his escapability is probably the best we've faced."
While Pryor is primarily known for his legs and what he can do on the ground, he has steadily improved as a passer and shows flashes of his potential in that facet of the game. He has a strong arm, throws a pretty ball and has completed 63.1 percent of his throws, which ranks 12th among all starting quarterbacks. While the Raiders rank last in the NFL in passing yards per game (176.0), it has more to do with a lack of passing attempts, 27.4 per game (30th), than a glaring deficiency of skill on the part of Pryor. In fact, his 7.32 yards per attempt, which ranks 15th among quarterback, signifies that he makes the most of his passing opportunities.
"He's getting better each week (as a passer)," Davis said. "It's interesting to watch his progression because you can tell that the offense has kind of moved to what he does well (that's what) they're doing the most. He had a great game passing against San Diego, he lit them up. He's got the skill set, and like most young players, as they play more, they start settling in and saying, 'You know what, I do belong and I can play this game.' You can see the confidence growing in him, and we've got our hands full trying to stop this offense."
Becoming an NFL-caliber passer is something Pryor has worked very hard to refine, since it was not a strength of his game when he entered the league as a rookie.
"I would say that's been a pride issue for him," said practice squad defensive lineman Brandon Bair, who was Pryor's teammate in Oakland last season. "He wants to prove that he can throw the ball, and he's getting a lot better at it. He continues to improve. He puts in more work than most guys do out there. He's constantly working harder to get better and working on his passing game. Sometimes you'll even see him make a decision where he should've run the ball, but he's trying to show he can pass the ball and he'll throw and make a bad decision in that situation. He recognizes that, and I think he's going to be a great quarterback as long as he keeps working the way he is right now."
Naturally, given Pryor's skill set, the defense has to devise a different way to defend him than it would a traditional drop-back, pocket passer. Some teams might devote a spy, some might vary up their stunts and pass rush patterns. The overall goal with a mobile quarterback is to contain him within the pocket, to make him beat you with his arm instead of his legs. And when a defense commits to making a mobile quarterback a passer, defensive backs have to be cognizant of the fact that he still might escape and extend the play, so they have to be ready to cover a little bit longer than usual.
"First of all, you have to keep a solid pocket in terms of your pass rush," Bair said. "You can't have big, open holes on the defensive line and guys rushing outside with nobody holding the middle. I think it's really important to have a sound pocket in terms of your rushing the passer. Obviously, we're used to going up against the zone read and read option in practice with what we do, so we'll just kind of play our game in that aspect."
"There are all kinds of different techniques and schemes that people are using (against mobile quarterbacks)," Davis said. "The spy technique by a (defensive) end, some are bringing in defensive backs to do it, some are changing up how they pass rush and the stunts they use. When you face the mobile quarterbacks, there a handful of tricks and little tools you can use to try and keep them contained. But then, at the end of the day, these great athletes with escapability, they're going to make some plays too. So behind it you have to make sure you're plastered in coverage and you've got to cover longer now because they move around more. The pass rush isn't quite the same pass rush when you have a mobile quarterback. The timing is different, the clock in the head of a defensive back has to go longer because it's not a five-step drop plant and throw. It could be six seconds you're covering, and that's where the challenge comes."
The Eagles defense has made tremendous strides over the last month and is just one of two units in the league to allow 21 points or fewer in each of its last four games. The improvement cannot stop here, however, as Pryor and a hungry Raiders team await for a showdown in the Black Hole.
"It's a credit to them (players and position coaches) and the individual periods and the fundamentals that we've taught from day one," Davis said of the steady improvement. "Every day we hit the sled, every day we tackle, every day we talk about footwork, every day we talk about eyes. And when you do that and just keep your focus on those things, you get better as you go. I like where we're improving to this point, but we've got a lot of improvement left. We still have so many inconsistencies in what we're doing. We've got eight more games to get a lot better."
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