It’s Just a Start … But of What?
The Oakland Raiders will bench Terrelle Pryor in favor of undrafted rookie Matt McGloin for a second straight week on Sunday. Does it signal a new era, the beginning of a quarterback controversy, or that it’s time (yet again!) for the organization to go back to the drawing board?
It makes sense what Raiders coach Dennis Allen is planning to do on Sunday, even if it means he might be fueling a quarterback controversy of his own making. He’s going with Matt McGloin for a second straight week after the undrafted rookie threw three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 28-23 win at Houston.
McGloin made his first career start last week after Allen and other members of the organization had become frustrated with Terrelle Pryor’s shortcomings as a passer—especially a sudden spree of turnovers in his last four starts, which featured eight interceptions, a 50.8 completion percentage and only one touchdown. When the former Ohio State star sprained a knee on Nov. 3 against the Eagles, the staff had a ready-made opportunity to give McGloin a look, and they liked what they saw. Now they’re going to keep riding the hot hand.
Maybe he’ll continue to play well, but every time I hear McGloin’s name I think of Houston quarterback Case Keenum—because four weeks ago Keenum was McGloin.
The Texans had lost four in a row, including three by at least 25 points, with Matt Schaub throwing more touchdown passes to opponents rather than his own receivers in two of those games. Enter Keenum, an energetic gun-slinging second-year quarterback who was the NCAA’s all-time leading passer in touchdowns, yards and completions at the University of Houston.
In his first start the undrafted rookie nearly directed an upset of the undefeated Chiefs, throwing for 271 yards and a touchdown in a 17-16 loss on Oct 20. In his next outing, Keenum threw for 350 yards and three scores, and had the Texans four minutes away from beating the division-leading Colts before falling, 27-24. In his third start, another three-point loss, he threw for three touchdowns and no interceptions against the Cardinals.
There was a feeling that, despite the defeats, the franchise had a young quarterback it could build around. The fact that he was a local boy made it a feel-good story. The problem, however, is that the NFL is a notorious graveyard for fairytales. It’s where happy endings are laid to rest, and in the third quarter of last Sunday’s 28-23 loss to Oakland, Kubiak essentially shoveled dirt on Keenum by benching him.
Raiders fans are so desperate to get a quarterback they can believe in that it’s easy to overlook the warning signs from last week’s win. Yes, McGloin was effective, but he couldn’t have been put in a better situation. Houston began the game by turning the ball over twice in its first three possessions, both times inside its own 20-yard line. McGloin responded by throwing for scores each time, but had only one touchdown the rest of the way. In the second half he was little more than a caretaker, as Rashard Jennings scored on an 80-yard run and the defense forced Houston to kick field goals of 26 and 30 yards in the fourth quarter.
McGloin gets another chance to state his case against Tennessee, but just as Keenum struggled after opponents were able to study film on him, so, too, could McGloin against a talented Titans secondary that has surrendered just three touchdown passes in its last eight games.
In the meantime, McGloin remains a great story: He entered Penn State as a walk-on and left as the record-holder for career touchdowns (46). He also climbed from fourth on the Raiders’ depth chart—behind Pryor, the departed Matt Flynn and rookie Tyler Wilson—to become the starter. Inspiring, yes. But one quality start (against a two-win team) isn’t reason enough to forget that he went undrafted and was passed over by Washington and Carolina after post-draft workouts. Scouts who evaluated him before the draft say it’s because he lacks athleticism and is prone to bouts of inconsistency. In fact, only once in his college career did he finish a season with a completion rate above 54.9%.
So, let’s play this forward and hypothesize that neither McGloin nor Pryor is the answer. Then who is? That’s a scary question, considering general manager Reggie McKenzie has yet to show he has an answer. He traded a fifth-round pick for Flynn and restructured his contract to guarantee $6.5 million, then released Flynn six months later. He also drafted Wilson in the fourth round and waived him after a poor preseason. And earlier this season, when Pryor was actually playing well, he pursued Josh Freeman following his release from the Bucs.
McKenzie has said he expects the Raiders to challenge for the division title in his third year on the job, which is next season. But if he doesn’t get the quarterback situation resolved, he’ll be no closer to returning the franchise to relevancy than it was when he took over.