The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their thirteenth game of the 2018 regular season Sunday afternoon against the Oakland Raiders in what figures to be a game the visitors should win after losing their last two contests. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game to come away with their fifth road win of the 2018 season Sunday at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland.
Get a good case of the runs going early – The Raiders run defense hasn’t been great at all so day this season as not only has that unit allowed a league worst 6.57 yards per carry, they’ve also allowed an average of 153.3 yards rushing a game, which is the second-most in the league. While the Steelers won’t have staring running back James Conner on Sunday due to an ankle injury that he suffered last Sunday, they will have the same five offensive linemen who have played most of the season. The raiders defensive line suffered a few more injuries last week and thus that unit should easily be pushed around Sunday afternoon in Oakland. In short, Steelers running backs Jaylen Samuels and Stevan Ridley should have a nice total of successful runs on Sunday and especially if the Raiders are more concerned about covering wide receivers Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. There’s no reason for the Steelers not to have a balanced run/pass ratio against the raiders and especially in the first half
Strip the Carr – Raiders quarterback Derek Carr has done a great job of not throwing interceptions so far this season and the 8 that he has thrown all came in the team’s first five games. While Carr isn’t throwing interceptions as of late, he has been giving the football away via fumbles when sacked. In total, Carr has fumbled 7 times in the Raiders last seven games and all of them came on sacks. Carr has also been sacked 38 times this season and the Steelers defense enters Sunday’s game with a league-high 41 sacks. Not only are the Raiders starting tackles Kolton Miller and Brandon Parker not great at protecting Carr, Oakland’s great interior trio of Rodney Hudson, Kelechi Osemele and Gabe Jackson are all currently dealing with minor inures that resulted in them all being limited in practice this past week. In summation, the Steelers defense should be able to get after Carr quite easily on Sunday and their pass rushers need to make sure they are trying to strop Carr of the football when and if they get to him.
Don’t get Cooked in the Black Hole – Raiders tight end Jared Cook is Oakland’s main receiving threat entering Sunday even though he trails running back Jalen Richard by two receptions for the team lead in that statistical category. For a tight end, Cook can really produce explosive plays and he leads the league at his position with 14 receptions of 20 yards or longer with those catches averaging 27 yards. 3 of those explosive receptions resulted in touchdowns and Cook leads the Raiders with 6 scoring catches in total. Not surprisingly, Carr looks for Cook a lot on third downs and he’s connected with the tight end 16 times so far this season on that down with 14 of those receptions resulting in successful plays. The Steelers will likely need to cover Cook with either inside linebacker L.J. Fort, safety Morgan Burnett or cornerback Cameron Sutton on Sunday and hopefully the combination of those three players can limit Cook from having a big game.
Muscle the hamster – The Raiders will likely lean heavily on running back Doug Martin to open the game in an effort to control the clock and keep the football away from the Steelers offense. after all, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can’t chew up the Raiders defense if he’s not on the field. Martin is a power runner and he’s averaged 4.2 yards per carry on 105 total totes this season. 15 of his carries so far this season have resulted in no gain or lost yardage and he only has one run of 20 yards or longer. If the Steelers defense can limit the ‘Muscle Hamster’ early, they might not have to see much of him in the second half and especially if the Pittsburgh offense does their part in the first half. Martin has also fumbled twice this season with his most recent one coming last Sunday and he’s currently dealing with a knee injury that resulted in him being listed on the team’s Friday injury report as questionable for Sunday.
Timely deep thoughts – The Steelers offense should have the ability to take well-timed and properly calculated deep shots down the field Sunday against a Raiders pass defense that has allowed 59% of all deep pass attempts to the middle and right side of the field to be completed against them this season. Those 26 completions to those deep areas of the field have resulted in an average gain of almost 30 yards. When you add in the fact that the Raiders defense enters Sunday’s game against the Steelers with just 10 sacks on the season of which 3 were registered by Bruce Irvin, who is no longer on the team, Roethlisberger should have more than a few instances where he can sit back in the pocket and wait for either Brown or Smith-Schuster to lose the player covering them down the field. To make matters worse for the Raiders defense, that unit won’t have veteran safety Reggie Nelson on Sunday as he was placed on the team’s Reserve/Injured list this past week. Nelson, in case you didn’t already know it, has intercepted Roethlisberger six times during his career and no other player has picked off the Steelers quarterback more than he has.