Given the struggles of the Raiders this season, we might be tempted to focus on what little passing game they have with Carson Palmer. After all he does have experience playing against the Steelers and the Raiders have always been known for going downtown as often as they can. If you’re the Steelers, you certainly account for Palmer’s ability but stopping run is first and foremost on the docket for the defense.
If there’s one thing that Dick Lebeau is known for with his defenses, it’s that you first stop the run at all costs. If you can’t do that, you’ve severely hampered your chances for success. The Steelers take pride in their run defense above all else because that’s what they’re built for. We need look no further than the stats over the last several years as evidence of how much they focus on it.
Since 2004 they’ve been in the top 3 every season with the exception of 2011 when they finished 8th. Being top 10 is hardly anything to sneeze at but it’s not acceptable in Pittsburgh.
It’s no coincidence that during that time they’ve appeared in 3 Super Bowls and won 2 of them.
The Raiders haven’t exactly been stellar in grinding out the yardage through the first 2 weeks of the season. In week 1 against the Chargers, Oakland only had 45 total yards on the ground and McFadden had 32 of those. In week 2 they got worse, only managing 23 total yards rushing in the game; McFadden again was the leading rusher with 22 yds. It doesn’t matter what team they play or who the Running Back is, if you’re the Steelers you make the offense one dimensional and therefore easier to defense; the Raiders are no different.
McFadden has been in the league since 2008 when he was drafted in the first round; since then he’s only been able to break the 1,000 yd barrier once (2010). He’s fought through constant coaching changes and injuries, otherwise I would expect him to have much better production in his career. Even so, he’s a threat to break a long gainer any time he can get out of the backfield and get to the second level of the defense.
We focus mainly on McFadden because he is the only feature back they have right now; the other 2 ball carriers are Taiwan Jones and Mike Goodson; neither of which has been able to generate any type of help to the offense this season.
The Steelers defense is not exactly what you would call a healthy group right now; and it’s only week 2. The front 3 of Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, and Ziggy Hood are doing fine as are the reserves. At Linebacker; James Harrison is likely out and a combination of Jason Worilds and Chris Carter will again take his place. In the secondary Troy Polamalu should be a scratch with that calf injury; Mundy will take his place. Even with a less than healthy starting unit, they shouldn’t have a problem shutting down the Raiders, at least in theory. Look for Dick Lebeau to again use that new “Big Nickel” defense that includes 4 Defensive Lineman, 2 Linebackers, and 5 Defensive Backs. They’ll use that to combat both the run and pass, especially in situations where the offense can be more creative with their play calling.
Regardless of the Raiders struggles on offense, the Steelers cannot overlook McFadden or the Raiders passing game. At 0-2, they’ll be chompin’ at the bit to get a win since they’re already down in the division to the Chargers by those two games. It may seem like a broken record, but if the Steelers let McFadden get momentum and the Raiders Offensive Line gain confidence, this game is going to be closer than it should be. It may be too early to say the Raiders are a cornered tiger or a caged lion but the Steelers better treat them as such and end this game early. Allowing Oakland to hang around could end up in a repeat of 2009 and none of us wants that.