The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their second regular season game of 2021 at home on Sunday afternoon against the Las Vegas Raiders and they’ll enter that contest marked as the favorite. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game on Sunday to come away with their second win of 2021 season.
No Wallering In It – Raiders tight end Darren Waller is one of the best in the game and he’s essentially a wide receiver playing the tight end position. The Raiders will move him all around in the offense and you can expect him to be targeted on Sunday at least 12 times and maybe even as many as 20. Like last week against Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs, the Steelers defense isn’t going to be able to totally shut down Waller. The unit can, however, focus on not letting Waller have a huge game that ends with him having 100 or more yards receiving and a touchdown or two. The Steelers held Diggs to nine catches for 69 yards and no touchdowns in Week 1 and that was fantastic. Their defense needs to shoot for a similar stat line for Waller in Week 2 at Heinz Field. Bracketing Waller on Sunday will be a must, as will getting him down on the grass quickly after each of his catches. If Waller has a huge game, it will likely result in a Raiders win.
Steel Stuntmen – The offensive line that the Raiders will start on Sunday won’t be very experienced. In fact, if you take away the 47 career starts that left tackle Kolton Miller has made to date, the rest of the other four Raiders offensive lineman have a combined 17 regular season starts. This Raiders offensive line will be one that the Steelers defensive line will likely want to stunt and twist often against. We could see some blitzing this Sunday as well after hardly seeing any in Week 1. Raiders rookie right tackle Alex Leatherwood will need to face Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt on Sunday and that will be one heck of a chore for him. Raiders center Andre James will be making just his third NFL start on Sunday while left guard John Simpson will be making just his fourth. Both will see a lot of Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward on Sunday and he’s coming off perhaps the best game of his NFL career in Week 1. Stunting throughout the game on Sunday will surely produce at least a few sacks of Raiders quarterback Derek Carr for the Steelers defense and maybe even as many as half a dozen or more.
Ping Crosby – Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby is now one of the NFL’s premier pass rushers. On Sunday at Heinz Field, Crosby will mostly rush from the left side of the Raiders defense and that means he’ll have a lot of snaps against Steelers right tackle Chukwuma Okafor. To help Okafor some throughout the afternoon, the Steelers must make sure to chip on Crosby with a running back or tight end as often as possible. Running early and often right at Crosby might be a pretty good idea as well. Crosby, much like Watt, has the ability to change a game numerous times throughout it. As much attention as the Steelers defense will likely give Waller on Sunday, their offense needs to give Crosby the same amount.
50/100 Club Time – Against the Bills in Week 1, Steelers rookie running back Najee Harris rushed for just 45 yards on 16 total carries. Just six of those 16 total runs were successful as well. Those kinds of stats are just not likely to cut it on Sunday against the Raiders. Harris, who played every offensive snap in Week 1, is likely to play most of the snaps again in Week 2. Him posting a successful run rate of 50 percent or better and a 100 yards or more rushing should be enough to help power the Steelers to a home win. Since head coach Jon Gruden returned to the Raiders in 2018, only eight running backs have managed to rush for 100 yards or more in a game against his teams. The Raiders went 2-6 in those eight games.
Be Red Raiders – Against the Bills in Week 1, the Steelers offense was just 1-of-3 inside the red zone with two of those three drives ending inside the 10-yard-line. While both drives that failed resulted in field goals, that still gave the team just six points entering the fourth quarter. If not for a fourth down stop by the Steelers defense and a blocked punt for a touchdown by the special teams unit a little bit later, Pittsburgh would probably be entering Sunday’s game against the Raiders 0-1. In short, 13 offensive points scored on Sunday by the Steelers offense against the Raiders isn’t likely going to be enough to secure a victory so it’s important for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and company to produce at least 23 points at Heinz Field to win. That means a better red zone percentage than Week 1 will likely be needed.