When the Pittsburgh Steelers kick off their Week 2 showdown against the Las Vegas Raiders, there are several key components that Pittsburgh will have to address to put themselves in position to be successful Sunday afternoon. Alex Kozora highlighted the importance of containing TE Darren Waller, but I want to address the issue of the Raiders revamped pass rush. The Las Vegas Raiders recorded a 91.2 Pass Rush grade in Week 1 via Pro Football Focus, which ranks 1st in the NFL just ahead of Pittsburgh’s 2nd place ranking of 83.7.
Vegas pressured QB Lamar Jackson on 54.5% of his drop backs. Maxx Crosby -who faces RT Chuks Okorafor- brought pressure on 29% of his pass rush snaps. QB Ben Roethlisberger recognized Crosby’s capabilities as a pass rusher on Wednesday when speaking to the media, stating he wasn’t surprised with Crosby’s performance because “He’s from the MAC. That’s where the best football players come from. He’s a stud.” PFF charted Crosby with 13 pressures on Monday night which ranks first of all defenders in Week 1. He turned that pressure into six combined tackles (four solo), two TFLs, five QB hits, and two sacks.
In fact, Crosby finished with a 47.2% pass rush win rate on the night with fellow EDGE rusher Yannick Ngakoue finishing right behind him at 42.9% per Pro Football Focus which put them as the top two defenders in this category Week 1. The Raiders as a whole generated 18 pressures on 33 drop backs (54.5%) as a team Monday night per NFL Next Gen Stats, their highest total ever recorded by the site. That was evident as QB Lamar Jackson was under constant duress in the pocket, having the combination of Crosby and Ngakoue abuse starting OTs Ronnie Stanley and former Pittsburgh Steeler Alejandro Villanueva off the edge, forcing Jackson to tuck and run the ball or scramble out of the pocket.
The Raiders pass rush had Jackson running for his life all night long, making him have to try and get outside of the pocket to extend the play to allow his receivers time to try and separate from coverage downfield. While Jackson is known for being a phenomenal athlete, the Las Vegas defense did a great job getting him on the ground and preventing Jackson from killing them on the ground. Watch this effort play by both Crosby and Darius Philon to trip up Jackson as he tries to escape the pocket to get Jackson on the ground.
Crosby personally had the night of his life Monday night, not only from a production standpoint but also by the way he played. He flashed impressive burst and closing speed as a pass rusher as well as a relentless effort to get to the football. This play epitomizes that effort of pursuit by Crosby, as many pass rushers can’t force Jackson to the sideline the way Crosby was able to do on this play.
Ngakoue left the game Monday night with a hamstring injury, putting his status in doubt for Sunday’s matchup in Pittsburgh coming off of a short week. However, it was reported Thursday that Ngakoue was practicing with the team, having his leg wrapped up. Unless he sees complications with rehab or experiences a setback, it should be expected that Ngakoue will play against Pittsburgh, albeit his snaps may be dialed back to obvious passing down situations. Still, rotational pass rusher Carl Nassib can more than hold his own should Ngakoue see reduced snaps, contributing three tackles, one QB hit, a sack and a forced fumble in limited action.
If Las Vegas was able to generate this kind of pressure on a mobile QB like Lamar Jackson, it can only be assumed that chasing down 39-year-old Ben Roethlisberger who is more of a statue in the pocket can be a legitimate concern for the Pittsburgh offense. Given the up-and-down performances of OTs Dan Moore Jr. and Chukwuma Okorafor against the Buffalo Bills, OC Matt Canada may need to be creative in providing help to his book-end tackles to keep Ben clean in the pocket. Keeping either Pat Freiermuth or Eric Ebron in to chip the defensive end or potentially double with the tackle may be something to consider providing extra pass protection. Najee Harris also should be expected to stay home to pass protect.
In terms of working around the pass rush, going back to the quick hitting, dink-and-dunk passing game should be expected for Pittsburgh to neutralize the pass rush and allow Ben to stress the Raiders’ pass defense which tends to be its weak spot in terms of holding up in coverage. Also putting an emphasis at establishing the run early with Harris could do wonders for keeping Pittsburgh in positive game scripts and wearing down the Raiders pass rushers, hitting them hard with the ground game to establish the LOS and mix in some pass play in-between to catch them off-guard.
In summary, Pittsburgh will have its hands full with the Raiders’ pass rush on Sunday afternoon. Okorafor and Moore will have to rise to the occasion to subdue the likes of Crosby, Ngakoue, and Nassib to keep Ben clean and upright in the pocket. Should they hold their own on the edges, Pittsburgh has a good shot of attacking the Raiders defense and producing a greater offensive output than they had Week 1.
What are your thoughts on the matchup between the Raiders’ pass rush and Pittsburgh’s’ offensive tackles in lead up to the Week 2 matchup? Do you think that the Raiders pose a significant threat given the state of the Steelers offensive line? How do you think the offense will try and slow the pass rush down? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!