During Pittsburgh’s 0-4 start, the defense struggled mightily when it came to stopping their opponents on the ground. The offensive lines of Tennessee, Cincinnati, Chicago, and Minnesota were all able to dominate at the point of attack on a consistent basis, and the Steelers allowed 122.75 yard per game on the ground during that stretch.
To their credit, Pittsburgh’s defense “nutted up” during the team’s last two games and managed to stifle both the New York Jets (83 rushing yards) and the Baltimore Ravens (82 rushing yards). While those two totals would have been considered “high” in recent seasons, Pittsburgh’s defensive linemen and linebackers have definitely played with more discipline and tenacity in each of their last two contests.
Although the Steelers have managed to stop the run on a consistent basis during the last two weeks, they cannot simply dismiss Oakland’s running game on Sunday.
With an injury-plagued and makeshift offensive line, the Raiders will probably try to take some of the heat off of Terrelle Pryor by giving plenty of touches to Darren McFadden (69 carries, 267 yards, two touchdowns) to try and set up play-action to their speedsters on the outside. Considering that their offensive line allowed nine sacks during their last game against the Chiefs, a run-heavy attack with McFadden (and Pryor) might be a solid strategy for the Raiders to employ.
Stopping McFadden on the ground will be key for the Steelers, especially since they failed to do that very thing during last season’s matchup in Oakland.
The former Arkansas Razorback gashed Pittsburgh’s defense last September to the tune of 113 rushing yards on only 18 carries. McFadden’s biggest play of the afternoon actually came on a touchdown run of 64 yards in the first quarter which tied the game at 7-7.
Oakland’s speedster was lethal running behind the zone-blocking scheme against Pittsburgh’s defense, and he likely would have gained more yards and tallied more carries had the Raiders’ offense not employed a “dink and dunk” offensive strategy against Dick LeBeau’s soft-zone in the second half.
The Steelers’ front-seven have done a tremendous job of keeping opposing offenses in “2nd and 3rd & long” situations during their last two games, and a big reason why has been their ability to limit the damage of their opponents’ ground games.
Making Oakland’s inexperienced quarterback as uncomfortable as possible will be of the utmost importance, so keeping McFadden (and Pryor himself) in check on the ground must happen if Pittsburgh wishes to force turnovers, limit drives, and keep the Raiders off of the scoreboard this weekend.
As I alluded to previously and will point out later today, the Steelers’ defense could feast on the Raiders’ offensive line this weekend in passing situations. To do this though, they must keep McFadden and the rest of Oakland’s ground attack from gashing them on a consistent basis throughout the game.
I for one am intrigued to see what transpires, and I hope that Pittsburgh’s front-seven can do a much better job of corralling McFadden than they did last fall.
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