Despite their early struggles, the Steelers have shown signs of improvement on the defensive side of the ball during the last two weeks. They have only allowed 22 points during their last eight quarters, and their run defense and pass rush have made significant strides as well.
Improvement aside, Pittsburgh’s defense will be put to the test this weekend when they face one of the most mobile quarterbacks in the entire league in the form of Terrelle Pryor.
Pryor the Runner
Since he assumed the starting job during the preseason, Pryor has emerged as a dangerous running threat during Oakland’s first six regular season games.
According to Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Oakland’s quarterback has racked up 285 rushing yards and averaged 6.5 yards per carry. The former Ohio State Buckeye is a terrific runner in the open field, and the last thing Pittsburgh’s defenders want to see is the large and athletic quarterback (6’4″ 233 lbs.) barreling towards them with a head of steam.
In addition to stopping him on designed running plays, Pittsburgh must limit Pryor from using his legs to extend passing plays or simply tucking the ball and scrambling for yards down the field.
Allowing Oakland’s signal-caller to run for chunks of yards, especially on plays which the secondary has excellent coverage is unacceptable and must be limited this weekend to keep the Raiders from extending drives and off of the scoreboard.
The Steelers’ defense cannot afford to let Pryor break contain and improvise in the passing game like Ben Roethlisberger has done for the last decade, and Pittsburgh’s cornerbacks and safeties must know where the speedy Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford are at all times.
How Can the Steelers Limit Pryor?
Besides being disciplined as they were against the read-option against the Jets and keeping Darren McFadden in check, “winning” on 1st and 2nd downs will be key for the Steelers’ defense.
Without an effective running game, Pryor and the Raiders will likely face a number of “2nd & 3rd and long” situations. These could provide the perfect setting for Pittsburgh’s pass rushers to feast, and it will be up to them to execute and harass Oakland’s inexperienced quarterback.
Kansas City’s defense suffocated Pryor two weeks ago to the tune of nine sacks, and Oakland’s offensive line has been an injury-plagued mess in recent weeks. The Chiefs kept the pressure on the third-year signal-caller, and his indecision coupled with the pocket-collapse led to three interceptions by Kansas City.
Pittsburgh’s offense can also help to stop Pryor from becoming a running threat this weekend if they are able to build a lead early in the game. Putting Oakland behind on the scoreboard, particularly by a large margin, should force Pryor to go to the air and will hopefully force the Raiders’ offense to become a one-dimensional unit.
A loss in Oakland could very well “end” Pittsburgh’s season from a postseason perspective, so their defense must be on high alert and contain the Raiders’ athletic quarterback at all costs.
Keeping him from making “splash plays” with his legs will be of the utmost importance, and the worst thing the Steelers can do is allow Pryor to gain any confidence and extend drives with his arm and his legs. Pryor’s athletic ability can make him a “thorn” in the “side” of any defensive unit, and it will be up to Dick LeBeau to tailor his weekly defensive scheme accordingly.
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