The Pittsburgh Steelers historically have a difficult time facing the Raiders. And, historically speaking, the Steelers have a tendency to land themselves on the wrong side of the score board in these ‘trap game’ situations. The common thread with those types of games is that the team does not seem prepared to face their ‘lesser’ opponent, and they become outplayed – always more so being out played physically. The last few battles between these two teams has seen Raiders running back Darren McFadden bowling over would be tacklers and just slapping the defense in the mouth with pounding run after pounding run. The Steelers have a prime opportunity to shut down McFadden and the rest of a potentially explosive Raiders offense by doing one thing: Getting Nasty.
My dad always told me to go out and punish the tackler. It’s something that always sticks in my mind when I’m running. – Darren McFadden, SFGate.com 10/25/13
Indeed that is the very thing that McFadden seems to do on a regular basis against the Steelers, running for 113 bruising yards the last time they faced each other. McFadden’s success in large part doesn’t come from just his ability to run hard, it comes from the Steelers lack of preparation and lack of ‘nasty’ when they play teams like the Raiders.
As has been stated previously by myself and others on this blog, the Steelers during their 0-4 start to the season lacked that ‘something’, that ‘nasty’ that makes them a feared defense, the main contender in the AFC North, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The team appears to be slowly crawling back from oblivion and gaining back some of that attitude and physical play that made them the #1 overall defense the last two seasons. That kind of ‘nasty’ will be even more important when facing the McFadden and the Raiders offense. And, based on the injury report coming out of Oakland, the team can and should take advantage of a banged up team.
McFadden is still coming off of a hamstring injury that has affected his performance. He’s gained just 90 yards on 33 carries in three games since his injury. Despite just coming off a bye week hamstring injuries for running backs have a tendency to linger and be pesky. Though, McFadden is a straight ahead kind of runner, his injury might cause hesitation and less explosiveness when hitting a would be tackler – advantage Steelers. The Raiders offensive line is also reeling from injuries. Left tackle Khalif Barnes is the only player to remain in his spot for all six games this season. All the other positions have seen men go down and others take their place and be shifted to other slots. Starting center Stefen Wisniewski is slated to start again, which should help QB Terrell Pryor in calling out pass protections. However, tackles Tony Pashos and Menelik Watson are still listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game. Guard Andre Gurode is also listed as doubtful. The Steelers and Steeler Nation know how this team must feel with all the offensive line injuries.
With all those injuries stacked against the Raiders, the Steelers have a golden opportunity to sock this team in the mouth early and often. If the Steelers can quickly make their way past the lesser skilled linemen and get into the back field, that will prevent McFadden from getting a head of steam and keep Terrell Pryor contained. A first half full of blitzes and containment could keep the Raiders off the score board for the most part, and allow the offense several opportunities for good field position and getting on the board to put the Raiders in a hole early. The ‘nasty’ will need to come early but will also need to stick around the entire game. One of the most frustrating things from the last two games against these two teams is that the Steelers defense (and offense) allowed the Raiders to stick around. Again, that ‘nasty’ attitude and tough physical play needs to maintain its presence in order to shut these guys down.
Steeler Nation should feel confident that if Dicky LeBeau draws up a good plan and refrains from sitting back in a soft D late in the halves the Steelers have a great chance of leaving the west coast with a win and staying at pace with the rest of the AFC North with three wins in a row and a 3-4 record.