Know Thy Enemy: Oakland Raiders

“My name is Michaelius Tomlinus Maximus, Commander of the Armies of Southwest Pennsylvania, General of the Steel Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Artemus Rooney. Father to a concussed quarterback, husband to a hot wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this season or the next.”

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is fired up. In his post-game comments following the devastating loss to the Baltimore Ravens, Tomlin promised to “unleash hell” in December. While I appreciate our coach’s passion, I have to wonder why this sense of urgency only comes after the season is completely out of hand. What did we unleash in November? Slight annoyance?

Fortunately, the Steelers catch two breaks this week. First, their opponent is the wretched Oakland Raiders. Second, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is expected to play. According to Ben, his head is fine, no headaches or any other post-concussion symptoms. In fact, the only part of him that’s hurting are his feelings over Hines Ward’s infamous interview with Bob Costas. Awwwww… If Big Ben manages to clean the sand out of his vagina by game time, the Steelers will once again have their key offensive weapon.

He definitely picked the right week to come back. People have noted Ben usually struggles in his first game back from getting his bell rung. ZOMG, REALLY?!? Luckily for him, he’ll have the Tongan Bulldozer Chris Kemoeatu back to protect him. Plus, this game has Rashard Mendenhall written all over it as the Raiders are second to last in rushing yards allowed per game. Only 0-16 Detroit was worse against the run last season so they attempted to remedy the situation by signing former Cowboys DE Greg Ellis and trading for Patriots DE Richard Seymour. It hasn’t worked. Which is a shame because Oakland has a very good secondary lead by the best CB in the NFL, Nnamdi Asomugha.

Of course, I fully expect Bruce Arians to call about 35-40 passes, including about a half dozen 40 yard bombs to Mike Wallace.

The beleaguered Steeler defense will face a Raiders team averaging just 11 points per game. Former #1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell has shown himself to be a complete bust so the team has turned signal calling duties over to Pittsburgh native Bruce Gradkowski. Their offense has looked a bit better with a semi-competent QB out there but I can’t imagine even our horrendous secondary losing that much sleep over it. They do have some promising targets in the receiving corps with TE Zach Miller slowly emerging as a top pass catcher and uber-speedy WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (last year’s seventh overall pick) could be a potential gamebreaker.

Troy Polmalu will miss his third consecutive game. Tomlinus Maximus claims Troy is “about a week away” from returning but with our next game only four days away against the lowly Cleveland Browns, I imagine the Steelers would be best served to sit him down until the December 20th game against Green Bay where he’ll definitely be needed. Travis Kirschke, who came back from a torn calf last week, hasn’t practiced and is probably out this week. Watching the Ravens gash us at times, I kinda figured Kirschke came back too soon. No matter, Nick Eason has been playing well in his place. As long as our secondary can hold it together, the Raiders won’t do much to bump up that scoring average this week.

Finally, in our weekly As The Special Teams Turn segment, Corey Ivy was released to make room for the return of special teams ace Anthony Madison. When I say “ace,” I can actually verify that he’s a good special teams player. As opposed to, say, Donovan Woods, who is lucky NFL players can’t be sued for false advertising. Madison is the prototypical gunner, a guy who runs down the field like a heat seeking missile going after the ball carrier. Madison was fantastic for the Steelers last season but got released during the preseason. I’d like to criticize Tomlinus for doing that but at the time it made sense. Madison played poorly at CB while free agent Keiwan Ratliff and a pair of rookie draft picks all showed great potential. Of course, once the actual season started we saw Ratliff was useless and I guess the rooks aren’t ready to come out of the oven or something.  At this stage, I’d rather tighten up the atrocious special teams and just take my chances when it comes to playing a nickel or dime DB.

I’d like to be all smug and self-assured about this game because, c’mon, it’s the Raiders. However, I did that when we played horrid Kansas City and we all know how that turned out. At this stage, I’m not taking any game lightly.  Hopefully the Pittsburgh Steelers won’t either.

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