The Pittsburgh Steelers will play host to the 4-3 Oakland Raiders Sunday at Heinz Field and below are seven key things that I believe they will need to do in the game in order to come away with a big AFC win that figures to have huge Wild Card implications later on in the season.
Control Cooper YAC – While Raiders rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper certainly looks like he will be one the leagues top pass catchers for the next decade, he’s not unstoppable. In fact, so far this season, 56.6% of Cooper’s receiving yards have come after the catch. In recent games against the Arizona Cardinals and Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers defense did a good job of tackling the catch and not giving up post reception yards and they’ll need a repeat of that Sunday and especially when it comes to covering Cooper.
Over 50 will be nifty – Only once in the Steelers last three games has their offense started a drive in opponent’s territory and that happened following a fumble in the game against the Cardinals. The Steelers claimed veteran kick returner Jacoby Jones off waivers this week and now hope he can flip the field at least one time a game moving forward. The Steelers defense and special team units also need to work harder at delivering the offense the football on their opponent’s side of the 50 via a turnover as the starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and company need better starting field position than what they’ve had in their last several contests.
Ben back to Ben – Roethlisberger certainly didn’t have a great first game back last week against the Bengals as two of his three interceptions in the game resulted in 10 points being scored. This week, Roethlisberger will face a Raiders defense that enters the week second to last in average passing yards per game allowed (302.1), so there ought to be some yardage to be had in this game in addition to explosive plays as that defense has allowed 31 of them in their first 7 games. Roethlisberger doesn’t have to be great Sunday, he just needs to be better than he was last week and that means no turnovers.
Brown Out – These are the kind of games that you expect your best players to take over and because of that, wide receiver Antonio Brown needs to be the difference-maker on offense for the Steelers Sunday at home against the Raiders. None of the Raiders cornerbacks should be able to match-up Sunday with Brown so anything less than 100 yards receiving in this game will be somewhat of a disappointment.
Father’s Day – Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward became a father for the first time on Saturday and he’ll be looking to pass out sacks instead of cigars to the Raiders offensive linemen on the left side. While former undrafted free agent Donald Penn has had a good start to the season at left tackle for the Raiders, he and second-year left guard Gabe Jackson are two players that Heyward will be expected to man-handle on Sunday along with help from outside linebackers James Harrison and Jarvis Jones. Getting consistent pressure on Raiders quarterback Derek Carr in this game will be key and Heyward will be expected to provide a lot of it.
Control Daddy Mack – So far this season, Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert has lived up to the contract extension that he received a few years ago. While he’s already gone up against some of the best pass-rushers in the league in the team’s first eight games, he won’t get any kind of break on Sunday as Khalil Mack currently leads the Raiders in sacks. In addition to effectively rushing opposing quarterbacks well so far this season, Mack has also played the run well when team’s have attempted to rush off right guard and right tackle against him. If Mack has a weakness, it’s on runs around the right end as he and the rest of the Raiders defense have given up an average of 6.75 yards per carry on the 12 runs that have gone that way so far this season. The Gilbert versus Mack matchup is certainly one to pay close attention to in this game.
Tuitt do-it factor – Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt figures to play Sunday against the Raiders for the first time since spraining a knee back in Week 6. He’ll be going against a right side of a Raiders offensive line that has surrendered 6 of the teams 10 sacks so far this season, so we should know quickly on in this game whether or not the former second-round draft pick is able to pick up where he left off at prior to going down injured.