There were four minutes left in the third quarter when Terrelle Pryor stood in shotgun against the New York Giants. He had two receivers flanked to each side of him and a running back set to his left. In the middle of the field, he saw a two-deep shell from the defense, one that looked like it would be Cover 2 based off of the deeper-than-usual depth of the middle linebacker. Pryor’s play-call was a double slants concept to his right. It was a known Cover 2 “beater” and it would let him get the ball out of his hands quickly. It was an ideal call on 3rd-and-8 if the receivers beat the jam and picked up yards after the catch.
Upon catching the snap, Pryor took one long stride back and turned his shoulders to the outside to throw one of the two slants. His read was inside out, meaning he read the slot receiver’s slant first, then the outside receiver’s. He decided to throw to the outside with the thought that the slot receiver would hold nickel cornerback Terrell Thomas for a split-second and create a window to throw through.
The slot receiver never did hang up Thomas, though. His route, run after a quick inside-out motion before the snap, was very poorly executed at what looked like half-speed. It didn’t do anything for both the Raiders and Thomas, who took one veteran look at it and immediately started to expand to the outside.
He widened toward the numbers at the same time Pryor opened his hips up and raised his right arm. Then Pryor unleashed a tight spiral toward the outside receiver. The receiver struggled to beat the jam at the line of scrimmage to get positioning, making it nearly impossible to catch the ball. If he wasn’t going to catch it, then Thomas would. Thomas watched the ball throughout the duration of its flight and it eventually landed at the 30-yard line, stepping in front of the slant and intercepting the ball before returning it for 65 yards.
There was a lot of blame to go around on this play. It was supposed to be an easy throw for Pryor to his receivers, who should have won at the line of scrimmage. Hell, it’s what they practice everyday. They also practice how to run their routes sharply on these types of concepts, yet they couldn’t do that either. There was nothing wrong with the play-call; as said, it’s a known Cover 2 beater that all other teams run frequently. In the end, it all comes back to Pryor, though.
Pryor is the quarterback of the offense and has the right to decide if he’s going to make the throw or not. He needs to know to not make a throw when it looks like the play is going to break down. Despite it being a progression play, one that requires him to go through multiple reads quickly, he needs to learn to break the rhythm of it and find another option, whether it’s scrambling, taking the sack, or throwing it to another receiver.
It’s all part of learning how to play the position. Pryor is talented, but a big part of playing quarterback in the NFL is improvising when things break down. Many quarterbacks struggle with it, hence why the aren’t considered “elite” players at the position. They don’t know how to break the play when necessary. In this case, when Pryor raised his right arm, he should have seen Thomas expanding as a “hook” defender and pulled the ball down. He had room to scramble up the middle of the pocket. It wouldn’t have gotten him the first down that was needed, but at least it wasn’t a turnover.
In the end, it’s easier to say it than do it, but that’s the reality for Pryor. In situations such as these, he needs to pull the ball down and improvise.