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Know Thy Enemy: Oakland Raiders

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Their starting quarterback is banged up. The head coach is an idiot. Their most dynamic offensive player was just lost for the season. And they’ve lost two straight games.

What a perfect time to play the Oakland Raiders!

Bad things tend to happen for the Pittsburgh Steelers whenever they play the Raiders. Whether it’s losing to a team that wins only two games all season or Big Ben getting his nose broken from a sucker punch, the Silver and Black have been a thorn in our side since the 70s. If there’s one small grace it’s that the game is being played at Heinz Field and not the Black Hole. Still, this is not the ideal time to be playing someone who traditionally gives us fits.

These aren’t your usual Raiders, either. Oakland has improved to the point you have to say they’re legitimate Wild Card contenders. It starts with quarterback David Carr. After searching for years for that next great QB, they’ve finally found a keeper.

Carr isn’t in the rarefied air of Rodgers or Brees (yet) but last week he match Tom Brady by tossing 4 TD passes against a pretty good Jets defense. On the year he’s tossed 15 TDs vs only 3 INTs and is on pace for over 3500 yards. Oakland’s passing attack rates among the league’s best, averaging nearly 350 yards per game.

Much of Carr’s improvement can be attributed to finally having weapons to work with. Rookie WR Amari Cooper is a breakout star while veteran Michael Crabtree is showing he can still go. TE Mychal Rivera and RB Marcel Reece create match-up nightmares. The running game led by Latavius Murray hasn’t materialized as they’d hoped although he is averaging a respectable 4.6 yards per carry.

Not sure what more needs be said about the Steelers defense other than they’ve been a revelation. Whatever buttons Keith Butler is pushing, they’ve mostly worked this season. They get pressure, they get sacks, and most importantly they get turnovers. They give up a lot of yards but it’s hard to be satisfied with what they’ve given us this season.

The great irony is despite being the Walking Dead on offense, the defense is finally mostly healthy with last week’s return of Ryan Shazier. DE Stephon Tuitt just returned to practice after missing time with a sprained ankle so he may not be ready this week but otherwise it’s pretty much all hands on deck. It’ll be quite interesting how our secondary deals with that Oakland passing attack when the Jets far better unit got torched. Generating pressure on Carr will certainly help.

Our D will have need to be sharp because what we get on offense will be anyone’s guess. The Raiders aren’t exactly the Steel Curtain on defense. In fact, they’re among the league’s worst giving up 385 yards of offense (24th) and 302 yards passing (31st) per game. They rank 2nd against the run which is likely a byproduct of being so easy to throw against – and that they score enough on offense teams have to play catch-up.

Ben Roethlisberger had a really bad game last week. His decision making was poor and his mobility was terrible. DeAngelo Williams is a very good back-up but you can’t run the offense through him like you could’ve with Le’Veon Bell. Ben will have to step up this week or the Steelers’ tailspin will continue.

A tailspin what really can’t afford to continue. Last week, I wrote about the precarious position the Steelers find themselves in competing for the Wild Card. They really can’t afford any more AFC losses or they’ll be eliminated on the first tie-breaker. What’s more, Oakland looks like they’ll be in the WC mix so a loss would be a double whammy of losing both conference record and head-to-head tie breaks should it come to that. Of course, at this point the Steelers just need to worry about righting the ship. Another loss and the season might very well be sunk.