OAKLAND, Calif. – Terrelle Pryor promises the San Diego Chargers will see a completely different quarterback than the one who made his first NFL start in last year's season finale.
The footwork is more polished, the passes have more zip and accuracy, and Pryor has put to rest questions whether he can play quarterback in the NFL.
"I made big strides and big steps," Pryor said. "I have to keep on working hard and understand you're never good enough."
The Chargers (2-2) will see the new and improved version of Pryor on Sunday night when they visit the Oakland Raiders (1-3).
The Raiders also will see a different version of San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers. Rivers has always been a bit of a gunslinger, never afraid to throw the ball deep or into coverage while seeking the big play. That style also led to Rivers committing 47 turnovers the past two seasons, tied for the second most in the NFL over that span. Under new coach Mike McCoy and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, Rivers has played a safer brand of football, completing more than 80 percent of his passes over the past three weeks.
"We're still getting some chunk plays, but there is some more high percentage mixed in there," Rivers said. "I think the biggest thing is throw completions and get first downs. When a shot presents itself, we just have to make sure we capitalize."
Five things to watch in Chargers-Raiders:
LATE START: The start time has shifted from 1:25 p.m. PDT to 8:35 p.m. thanks to a baseball playoff game being played the previous night at the Coliseum. It takes about 18 hours to convert the stadium from baseball to football. leading to the late kickoff. While East Coast teams regularly start prime-time games at that hour, it's unusual for West Coast teams — and their fans.
"We have to tee it up whenever they tell us to tee it up," Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. "Let's not build in an excuse. Let's go play. ... We'll adjust the schedule a bit at the end of the week, but we'll be ready to go."
DEALING WITH DIRT: With the Athletics still in the playoffs, the Coliseum will feature the dirt infield that covers much of the middle of the field. That makes it difficult for pass rushers to get off the ball quickly, receivers to make sharp cuts and kickers to get solid footing on long field goals.
"I think you just have to know what it is and make sure you have the right shoes, because you could end up in the dirt a fair amount," Rivers said. "Be ready to get a few strawberries if you land on it. ... Once you get out there just get a feel for the footing, and once the ball is snapped, it's the last thing you're thinking about."
COACHING REUNION: McCoy and Allen forged a friendship in 2011 when they served as offensive and defensive coordinator, respectively, on John Fox's staff in Denver. Their units opposed each other every day in practice, they learned from each other in meeting rooms, and their families even vacationed together this summer. Now they go up against each other for the first time as NFL head coaches.
"We have a great relationship, our wives are very close," McCoy said. "They're a great family and he's a great coach."
PAUCITY OF PICKS: Oakland's rebuilt secondary is still looking for its first interception. The Raiders and Steelers are the only team without a pick through four weeks. They aren't even getting their hands on balls, ranking 31st in the league with nine passes defensed.
"Something has to change," cornerback Tracy Porter said. "We have to attack the ball more than we've been doing."
FREENEY'S FILL-INS: The Chargers sustained a big blow when star pass rusher Dwight Freeney went down with a season-ending quadriceps injury last week. Freeney, signed this offseason, led the team with 19 quarterback pressures, according to Pro Football Focus — more than twice as many as any teammate. Larry English will likely replace Freeney in the starting lineup.
"You can't replace a guy like that," safety Eric Weddle said. "Teams have to account for him. He was very rarely getting single man blocks by one guy, and when he was, he was getting pressure on the quarterback every time."
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