During the 1970′s the Pittsburgh Steelers- Oakland Raiders rivalry was one of, if not the best in the NFL. Three straight times (’74,’75,’76) the two teams met in the AFC Championship and the framework of the Steelers dynasty was born against the Raiders in the 1972 AFC Divisional playoff with Franco Harris’ “Immaculate Reception”.
However, as both dynasties collapsed in the late 80′s and were (at least for the Steelers) re-born in the early 90′s the rivalry cooled off. And while today a Steelers-Raiders game doesn’t hold the same luster as it did in the 70′s, the Raiders have had the Steelers number in recent years, even helping keep the black and gold out of the playoffs last year by beating Pittsburgh.
Most Steeler fans have to be encouraged by what they’ve seen the last two weeks :some semblance of a running game, forcing turnovers and sacks, and some imagination on offense. Yes a win over the sputtering Ravens was nice, as was shutting Rex Ryan up for a week, but the Steelers cannot afford to look past the seemingly lifeless Raiders.
Aside from QB Terrelle Pryor, the Raiders don’t have much going for them on offense. Running back Darren McFadden is hurt as usual, and they really don’t have a receiver that scares anyone. WR Denarius Moore is a decent threat but there is little else to worry a defense. Pryor’s size and athleticism can extend plays the same way Ben Roethlisberger can, but Ben has far superior weapons to throw to. The Raiders defense has been able to get to opposing quaterbacks sixteen times, so pass protection should be, as usual, some concern to Mike Tomlin. However, much like the Steelers, the Raiders don’t generate many turnovers defensively, so if Big Ben can take care of the ball and not make foolish mistakes, the offense can move against the silver and black.
So then why worry? Simple, the Raiders over the last two meetings have beaten the Steelers and with the playoffs still a possibility, a loss to an inferior opponent would all but kill Pittsburgh’s post season opportunity. With games against the Bengals, Packers, Patriots and Ravens still looming, Pittsburgh can ill afford to fall into a trap game like Oakland. The Steelers must not play down to the level of their opponent Sunday, they must show the same fire and moxie they displayed the last two weeks. Le’veon Bell must continue to produce on the ground and while Raider CBs Charles Woodson and DJ Hayden have been decent, TE Heath Miller should find good living down the seam of the Oakland defense. Offensively, the Raiders offensive line is nearly as porous as Pittsburgh’s, yielding 27 sacks in just six game and despite being devoid of playmakers, the Raider offense does generate nearly 320 yards of offense while surrendering only 20 yards more per game.
Normally one would not classify a game against a 2-4 team as a must win, but it is. The NFL is a very mediocre league right now ( I mean Kansas City is 7-0??), so there is room to move up in the playoff picture. Originally when I took a game by game look at the regular season schedule I gave the Steelers a loss against the Raiders. However, I do like the way Pittsburgh is playing so I’m inclined to think they will pull this one out, but if they are, they need to score more TDs than merely relying on Shaun Suisam to pull their fat out of the fire. If I was to pick a score for this one, I see it as a 20-14 Steelers win.
SOME OTHER STEELERS THOUGHTS
Don’t look now but Mike Tomlin is slowly morphing into Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin rolled into one. Has anyone taken the fun out of football more than sour Mike? Alright, I get the no flipping into the end zone thing (it is pretty stupid when pro athletes do it), but he barely cracked a smile when the Steelers pulled out the win Sunday. His press conferences are nothing short of painful as well as being a good sleep inducer. Jeez, Mike I know the heat was on you a little but lighten up. What’s next , are you going to break out the hoodies and headbands like Belichick?
While I had high hopes for Markus Wheaton this season, his injury has opened up an opportunity for Derek Moye to shine. Moye is still a little raw, but his size has made him an attractive target for Roethlisberger and he displayed nice toughness with his catch over the middle last week while being dumped on the back of his neck. A quartet of Brown-Sanders-Cotchery-Moye gives the team good depth and can exploit a weak secondary if used well. Factor in Heath Miller and suddenly, the Steelers have a pretty legit passing attack.
Is that Cam Heyward actually contributing on defense??? If you’ve read my posts in the past, you know I don’t think much of Heyward or Ziggy Hood up until this point. However, if I had to pick one to keep, I’d pick ‘Ironhead’s’ son right now, he’s outplaying Hood and generating some decent push off the edge.
The revolving door at the corner position opposite Ike Taylor needs to be addressed somehow. Is it Cortez Allen or William Gay or someone else? Regardless, cornerback should be a high priority this off season either via free agency (yeah right) or through the draft. I’ve seen some early mock drafts for 2014 and OLB Khalil Mack of Buffalo has been one of the names attached to Pittsbugh (so has UCLA QB Brett Hundley). Tackle, cornerback and defensive line should be the top three priorities because it’s clear the answers aren’t within the team. All other needs take a back seat to those three problem spots.
Want to solve the Mike Adams issue?? Cut him. Plain and simple.
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