Last Sunday, the Raiders’ 29th ranked Rush Defense was run roughshod over by Reggie Bush and the rest of the Dolphins. Last week’s poor performance by Oakland’s Defense has led many to believe that our beloved Steelers could very well be primed for a break-out performance on the ground this weekend. I however think that structuring too much of their game-plan around the run during tomorrow’s game would be an unwise move for Pittsburgh. Why you may ask? Well in my opinion, Oakland’s Secondary is without question their Defensive unit’s weakest link, and Pittsburgh’s Offense would be better served to concentrate on exploiting them if they wish to secure a victory.
Oakland’s Suspect Corners
I understand that hindsight is “20/20.” And I completely acknowledge that every Front Office around the League has been short-sighted from time to time. But I am almost positive that the Raiders are regretting they released Cornerback (and current Steeler) DeMarcus Van Dyke before the regular season began. As it stands, Oakland’s bold move to cut their 2nd year Corner appears especially costly. Over the last three weeks, not only has the Raiders’ Secondary been decimated by injuries, but their depth chart has been filled with backups and players lacking experience.
If you have not heard already “Steeler Nation,” the Raiders will be without the services of Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer, both of their starting Cornerbacks. With Bartell and Spencer sidelined, Oakland will be forced to work with the combination of Pat Lee (2 career starts) and Joselio Hanson (19 career starts) as their starting Cornerbacks. Behind Lee and Hanson, the Raiders have become so desperate for any sort of experienced depth and help at the Cornerback position that Free Safety Michael Huff could be in line to see some work there this weekend.
But why is Huff taking reps now? Well, as the article I linked states, the Raiders’ other backups behind Lee and Hanson are the already well-traveled but inexperienced Phillip Adams and Coye Francies, both of whom were relegated to Special Teams duty against Miami. Sure, Oakland might have signed former Packers’ Practice Squad member Brandian Ross (to the active roster), as well as former Cowboy and Jaguar Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (to the Practice Squad) earlier in the week. But to believe these newcomers as well as Lee, Hanson, and Huff will be ready for significant snaps this weekend on at Cornerback, plus perform well on game-day might be a bit of a stretch when one considers the talent they must face.
Pittsburgh’s Passing Offense & Personnel
Logically, one would expect Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley and Ben Roethlisberger to exploit Oakland’s inexperience and talent disadvantage on the back-end. And why not? They do indeed have the types the pass-catching weapons to carve the under-manned Oakland Secondary to pieces. Between Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace, the Steelers have two Pro Bowl caliber players, and in my humble opinion are one of the most formidable “1-2 Punches” at the Wide Receiver position in the game.
Despite the fact that Wallace (9 Catches for 111 Yards and 2 TD’s) missed essentially the entire offseason when he refused to sign his RFA tender, him and the reliable Brown (11 Catches for 153 Yards) are leading the Steelers in Receptions and Receiving Yards, and only look to be heating up at this point in the season. Unfortunately for the Raiders, the matchup issues simply do not end with Brown and Wallace. Oakland’s Secondary will also have to contend with the emerging Emmanuel Sanders (7 Catches 88 Yards) and veteran Jerricho Cotchery in the Slot. Plus, the banged-up, but sure-handed Heath Miller (7 Catches for 69 Yards and 2 TD’s) will be ready to do some damage in the Red Zone and in the middle of the field also.
Targets aside, the Steelers’ Passing Offense will not be able to do anything without a halfway decent performance from their guys up front. If Ben has to run for his life all day, the weapons and advantages the Steelers are sure to have will mean nothing. I have given Pittsburgh’s Offensive Line however the benefit of the doubt in terms of their inconsistent performance so far in 2012, and they honestly deserve a growth period to gel before the criticism heats up this year. The unit only started to play together during Week 4 of the preseason, and require at least some time to congeal and play consistently. Thankfully, Oakland’s Defense has only recorded a total 2 Sacks this season, and there is nobody on their roster named Dumervil or Miller, or possesses the pass-rushing skills of either player. So while the task of keeping Big Ben’s uniform clean will always be a tall order, this unit will not have to face the likes of the Broncos or Jets pass-rushes either.
Would it be nice to see the running game kicked into high gear tomorrow and the Backs finally begin to click? Heck yes, and I hope that Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer enjoy a great deal of success. Yet as much as I would like to see the running game bust-out and completely have a dominant performance tomorrow, I really hope the Steelers can take advantage of Oakland’s weaknesses with Big Ben and the passing game and earn a “W” more.
Look, I am all for Offensive balance, but when matchups exist in the passing game for the taking, I say “Take ‘Em Boss Todd!” I mean, Lee, Hanson (or even Huff) on Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown? Those face-offs will favor Pittsburgh essentially every single time the ball will be snapped, and the guys between the numbers could have even more success against Oakland’s inexperienced backups and Linebackers in sub-packages. Just last weekend the Raiders’ Secondary allowed both Rookie Ryan Tannehill (18 for 30, 200 Yards, 1 TD), and Brian Hartline (9 Catches for 111 Yards) to have successful outings.
Pittsburgh needs to come out in tomorrow’s game and absolutely bury Oakland as early as possible. This contest has all the makings of a “trap game,” and the Steelers must not take them lightly. The 0-2 Raiders are desperate, and a desperate team playing in front of their home crowd will do everything in their power to avoid an 0-3 start. To “play patty-cake” and lolleygag with the Raiders and allow them to stay in the game with an ultra-conservative game plan reliant on a stagnant running game (Steelers Rushing Offense Ranks 30th) might be the recipe for disaster.
Trying to run for too long if Oakland’s Defensive Line toughens up would be wasting valuable time to build an important lead on the road. And remember readers, the Raiders only gave up a total of 32 Rushing Yards in their Week 1 loss to the Chargers, so that 263 Yard game last weekend might be more of an exception than the norm for their Defense. Sure, Curtis Brinkley and Ronnie Brown were toting the rock in Week 1. But are they that much worse than the Redman-Dwyer-Rainey combination?
So before you “establish the run” readers jump on my back, let me state that I am not saying Pittsburgh should completely abandon it tomorrow. Hey, if Oakland is selling out and using extra guys to mask their issues in the Secondary, then I say “Ground ‘N Pound” until they dedicate more numbers in the box. What I am simply trying to argue is that Pittsburgh would be wise to utilize the advantages they possess in the passing game, and not ignore some golden opportunities for the sake of “establishing the run.”
Speak up Readers: Should the Steelers go to the air early? Will the running game perform well? Etc.
Stats Courtesy of: Pro Football Reference.com