By Jeremy Hritz
Week three is here, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are making the trip to Oakland to take on the 0-2 Oakland Raiders. While it appears that this is an easy victory with all of the injuries in the Raiders secondary, there are no such things as gimme in the NFL. The last time the Steelers played in Oakland in 2006, Ben Roethlisberger played a horrific game, throwing two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns, ultimately resulting in a 20-13 loss. While the Steelers clearly have the talent advantage heading into Sunday’s game, the Raiders do not want to begin the season 0-3, and the home crowd will be hyped for their team to be taking on the Steelers, intangibles that make it crucial for the Steelers to be on guard against the letdown.
The Steelers Will Win This Game If…
If the Steelers avoid turning the football over, they will leave Oakland 2-1 heading into the bye week, yet the emphasis must be on the stopping the run. The Raiders enter this game with a rushing attack just as ineffective as the Steelers, gaining only 68 yards in two games. However, running back Darren McFadden, who has the ability to hit the homerun, is still trying to regain his form after overcoming a lisfranc injury last year. As head coach Dennis Allen stated this week, “I believe in what we\’re doing. And when you believe in something, you stick to it and have patience with it. It\’s all about a belief,” so don’t expect the Raiders to change their approach. While they got away from the running game last week because the game got out of hand, they were in a battle week one against the San Diego Chargers. If the Raiders get the running game going, the Steelers could be in trouble as they have not asserted themselves as a dominating, run-stuffing defense that they have been over the last few years. Frequently this year, the Steelers have missed too many tackles, have been caught out of position, and have been blown off of the ball by their opponents’ offensive line. This cannot be the case this Sunday.
The passing attack led by the tired Carson Palmer and his average group of wide receivers should not give the defense problems, which is why I expect Dick LeBeau’s game plan this week to emphasize the running game. If the Steelers do shut the running game down, it will force Palmer to have to drive the ball down the field on a defense that is overdue for an interception explosion. We have seen the outcome several times when the game is placed on Palmer’s shoulders, and hopefully, he is forced into a similar position this weekend.
The Raiders Will Win If…
They can run the football and get pressure on Roethlisberger. I already addressed the importance of the running game for the Raiders, but the other component crucial to their success will be getting to Big Ben. While the Raiders have only accumulated two quarterback sacks, the Steelers offensive line has the tendency of making mediocre pass rushers look phenomenal. If the Raiders bring Roethlisberger down consistently, it will negate the strength of the Steelers offense and get the home crowd into the game. With all of the injuries in the secondary for the Raiders, Roethlisberger will have his way, but only if he has time. If the Raiders cannot generate pressure, Ben could go off for 300+ yards, which is why an effective pass rush will be vital. Couple a solid pass rush with an effective running game, and the sky will definitely be falling come Sunday evening in Pittsburgh.
Pay Attention To…
Cortez Allen – There still hasn’t been a splash play on defense outside of the fumble recovery against Denver. I keep expecting one of the youngsters to step it up and emerge, and I am making the call here today that it will be Allen against the Raiders who comes up with a huge interception. The youth will start to come through on defense this Sunday.
The Offensive Line – The Steelers, overall, improved last week, though the offensive line seemed to regress a bit, and as I stated before the season began, the team will be a work in progress. With that said, I am looking for the offensive line to take a step in the right direction this week, both in its run blocking and in its protection of Roethlisberger. I’ve got my eye on Willie Colon this week, as I believe he will finally begin settling into left guard.
Don’t be surprised if the Raiders go up 7-0, 10-0, or 13-0 in the first quarter, but like last week, the talent of the Steelers will eventually show up and wear Oakland down. I expect a tremendous show through the air with all of the Raiders’ injuries, and Todd Haley no doubt is excited about the prospects for the offense. There is blowout potential in this game, but there is also the potential for an upset. However, I see this one ending with a lopsided win for the Steelers. Sorry, no repeat of 2006 here.
Steelers 34 Raiders 17