By Merlin Edwards III I @Trey_Me
When the Oakland Raiders travel to Pittsburgh this weekend to face the Steelers, they no doubt have a tough task ahead of them. Playing on the road in the Steel City is never an easy task, regardless the year.
The upstart Raiders head into the game at 4-3, good enough for a Wild Card spot if the playoffs started today. This is the first time in quite a while when a Raiders-Steelers game has held any kind of significance in November. The Steelers are still hanging onto playoff hopes despite having key injuries to major players on their team. First Ben Roethlisberger went down, followed by Le'Veon Bell who was lost for the season. Unfortunately for the Raiders, however, they still have one of the best receivers on the planet in Antonio Brown. Not to mention the fact that Big Ben is back in the fold, showing signs of the high passing production he's known for.
In order for the Raiders to win this game, Oakland's defense must do a couple of different things to slow this Steelers offense down:
• The secondary cannot give up big plays to Antonio Brown or any of their other deep threats. They need to keep from being leaky in the pass game by playing man coverage with help over the top, by the safeties. Trust your front seven to get pressure on the QB and man up on 80% of plays, just like in the Chargers game. The Steelers have a deep receiving corps, but trust the DB's to hold their own as they have done in recent weeks. Short passes are okay here and there, but never the deep balls, because they will be attempted often by Big Ben.
• Stop the Tight End! One of the only things the Raiders defense has been really bad at this year is slowing down the TE. Almost every opposing team has had a touchdown or a big yardage day by their slot receiver or Tight End. Oakland needs to use that platoon system with the linebackers and find a way to stop Heath Miller.
• The Defensive line has to continue its dominance up front. With DeAngelo Williams starting for the injured Bell, the Raiders have to stay stout and keep the running game from getting going. In the few games that Williams started, he played very well, but that cannot continue. Without slowing the run game down, Big Ben will carve up this secondary and it will be on the offense to score a ton of points to keep up.
• Kahlil Mack and Aldon Smith need to each have a sack. If both guys can get to Big Ben at least once, that will mean the defensive line will have a good day as a whole. There are seemingly always a couple different guys who get pressure because of different blitz packages, so if Mack and Smith can get there as well, it bodes well for the front seven.
• Tackles need to be finished every time. If any of the playmakers on the Steelers get in the open field and start breaking tackles, it will not be good news. Not only would that give up huge plays to Brown who has incredible breakaway ability, but the Steelers only need two or three of those per game to eek out wins. Pittsburgh is a good team and little fundamental mistakes like missing tackles will be exploited.
It may seem like a tall task to ask the Raiders to be successful in every one of those aspects, but if they can get close to playing a complete game on defense, this can be another blowout in favor of Oakland. The Steelers have enough weapons to get first downs and chew the clock, but if the Raiders hold them to field goals and limit touchdowns, the offense may be able to outscore Pittsburgh's.
Looking at the offensive side of the ball, Derek Carr is playing at an elite level, and the weapons at his disposal are close behind him. The steelers have been pretty good at generating turnovers this season, but with the way Carr is playing, they will be lucky to get one. Here are a couple keys for the raiders offense:
• The Offensive Line needs to keep Derek Carr clean. It was surprising when the Jets top 5 defensive line could not sack DC last week. The Pittsburgh D-Line is not as good, but Coach Mike Tomlin loves to run a lot of exotic blitzes. Unlike previous years, the Steelers secondary does not have a ton of sacks, but they blitz more than 3 or 4 a lot on passing downs. Center, Rodney Hudson, needs to keep up his Pro Bowl season and lead this line to another great day.
• The backfield as a whole needs to have another big game. This is not the big bad Pittsburgh Steel Curtain defense of yonder. They still have some nasty guys up front, but they have shown that they can be moved around a bit. Hopefully, Latavius Murray can have a good game, but if not, Taiwan Jones and Marcell Reece need to have a chance to get out of the backfield and get the ball in space. The lightning speed of Jones along with the size and quickness of Reece can really cause problems in the open field.
• Amari Cooper needs to have a huge game. This is one of the first times that he is not going to be facing a top 10 cover cornerback this season. Even the least talented teams that Oakland has played have had a really good DB. (Joe Haden on the Browns and Jimmy Smith on the Ravens). Antwon Blake and William Gay are decent players but Amari can absolutely torch both of them. Look for some deep routes in the first couple series from AC/DC.
• Whether the Raiders are up big, down big, or in a close game, they need to finish strong. The last two weeks they have been fortunate to be ahead by a couple scores and thus went into prevent-defense mode. It did not work either time, and the games were closer in the end than they should have been. The offense needs to put these games away in those situations. The Raiders must use their O-Line and get first downs by running the ball and throwing short completions to run the clock out. The only way opposing teams can get back in games is if they have the ability to get the ball back to their offense.
The offense has the potential to do all of those things, and there is a good chance they will win if they do. If they can play their game on offense, it might not matter how much the Steelers can score. Big Ben seems to still be feeling his injury a little bit, and the Raiders can exploit that as well. The defense needs to be able to hold its own but if it comes down to a shootout in the high 30's, Oakland can still win the game. There are more holes on the defensive side for the Raiders, but the offense may show that it is good enough to pull out a big win on the road.
Prediction: 24-21 Raiders. Oakland gets a win on a Janikowski field goal.
Comparing the QB's (2015)