Two wins in a row, and win against a hated foe. That’s better.
Moreover, the running game actually looked good against the ravens.
I’m not saying the Steelers’s problems are solved and they are on the way to a seventh Super Bowl, but at least it looks like they are not on their way to a top five draft pick, either.
This week, the Steelers visit their historical cross-country rivals in the once-feared “black hole.” Let’s see how things stack up against the Raiders.
Know Thine Enemy
The Steelers will travel to Oakland for the second time in two year. Oakland has not been kind to the Black and Gold. The Steelers are 5-9 all time in the dilapidated Oakland Coliseum.
Last year, QB Ben Roethlisberger had a huge game in a loss, throwing for 384 yards, four touchdowns, and zero interceptions. This last number is very important because Ben has not thrown a pick in the last two games, both of them Steeler victories.
The running game was nonexistent in their last meeting, which was why Ben had to throw the ball 49 times in the first place. RB Isaac Redman led the Steelers with 27 yards on nine carries. Pitiful, if you ask me.
Last week, however, RB Le’Veon Bell looked really good against a stout ravens defensive front seven. The offensive line played better than they have all year. It was a welcome change from the wide receiver screens to see Steeler running backs actually running.
Oakland’s rush defense is better than Baltimore’s, so it will not be easy to run the ball against the Raiders.
The Raiders are 18th in sacks the year, and 16th in pass yards allowed per game, so there may be plays to make in the passing game, but we would still like to see Bell and company run the way they did last week.
On the other side of the ball, the Raiders are playing QB Terrell Pryor under center, and have the 9th best rushing attack in the league, led by…um, Terrell Pryor. Pryor has 18 more rushing yards than RB Darren McFadden. Obviously, containing Pryor will be a priority to the Steelers’ 19th best rush defense and fourth best pass defense.
Protecting the ball, which is one of the highest priorities for any offence, will continue to draw a lot of concern from Head Coach Mike Tomlin. The Steelers have 12 turnovers committed in 6 games played, but only one in their last two games.
Plus, the red zone offense has to be better. Pittsburgh is 31st in the league in scoring touchdowns from the red zone, getting six points only 37.5% of the time when they are within the opponent’s 20 yard line.
Not much has changed on this list since week one. The offensive line played better last week, but better is not good enough in the NFL.
The running game looked better against the ravens, but the Raiders will be better than the ravens, too.
The defense played well enough against a struggling ravens offense, keeping perennial Pro Bowler RB Ray Rice to just 45 yards on the ground, but they are still not forcing turnovers. Last week marked the fifth of six games the Steelers had no takeaways.
That is not good.
The special teams play has been solid all year. K Shawn Suisham is perfect on the year, and converted a nice 42-yard field goal to win the game last week.
WR Antonio Brown was within a couple of inches of staying in bounds and returning a kickoff for a touchdown.
Brown has been a bright spot on offense, too. He has shown himself to be worth the contract the Steelers game him to be their number one receiver.
TE Heath Miller is still a great safety blanket for Big Ben, but he has to stop fumbling.
Young quarterback tend to struggle against the Steelers aggressive zone-blitz defense, but a mobile quarterback is one way to give a defense a moment of pause. I would look for Pryor to have a lot of planned runs, roll-outs, and bootlegs against the Steelers’ defense.
On offense, the Steelers will have to continue running the ball, even if the production is not there. Often the threat of the run is all that is required.
My prediction: Steelers 21 Raiders 19
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