Terrelle Pryor has had a breakout season for the Raiders and has proven he can make plays. With Pryor at quarterback, the Raiders for the first time in a long while have a player who can take over portions of a game.
Yet Pryor remains inexperienced. In just his third year in the NFL, Pryor for all intents is a rookie after having sat and watched through most of 2011 and 2012.
So when Pryor looks out at the Pittsburgh Steelers defense this Sunday in a battle of two 2-4 teams at O.co Coliseum, he’ll be seeing something he’s never seen before: a Dick LeBeau-coached defensive unit that can usually get the best of a young quarterback.
The Steelers run their zone blitz out of a 3-4 scheme and give opposing offenses a constantly changing landscape to study before each play, with players moving everywhere. As Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group noted this week, LeBeau’s defense in Pittsburgh is 16-2 when playing a rookie QB.
“He’s got a lot of different looks and he does it with different personnel,” center Stefen Wisniewski told McDonald this week. “He’s got (defensive backs) coming, he’s got linebackers coming. He’s got guys standing up and just walking around. He really understands protections well, so he knows how to beat your protections, and he’s been doing it for 20, 30 years.”
This Steelers team isn’t like the old Steel Curtain groups that won Super Bowls – it isn’t even much like recent Pittsburgh teams that have been in the playoffs. It’s older and less talented and it struggled out of the game this year, going 0-4. Offensively, it's among the worst in the NFL. But Pittsburgh has won two straight over the Jets and Ravens, giving up a total of 22 points in those two victories. So the defense, led by safety Troy Palamalu and outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, can still be a handful.
Pittsburgh is the No. 7 overall defense in the NFL, is fifth against the pass and 11th against the run.
“They’ve been a top 10 defense for the last nine years there,” said Raiders head coach Dennis Allen, whose team has had extra time to prepare with its bye week. “I think it’s the consistency of what he (LeBeau) does. I think he gives you a lot of multiple looks and makes it look complicated for the offense, but yet there’s some concepts that they have where they’re able to make it eay for their defense.”
So, Pryor will need to make the right reads, the banged-up offensive line will need to protect him and the running game with Darren McFadden will need to be effective to keep the Steelers honest.
Oddsmakers have made Pittsburgh a 2½-point favorite.
Pryor, who grew up in Pennsylvania as a Steelers fan, says he’s been spending plenty of time studying the Steelers this week.
“I already played them five times in my mind watchng film on them,” he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I’ve watched so much film I’m beyond that point. It’s time to get on the field and start making plays.”