Friday, September 21, 2012

Week Three: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Oakland Raiders Preview

Right about now, your dad is probably having flashbacks of the battles that these two teams used to partake in back in the 70's. Well it's 40 years later and the rivalry has gone a long way in losing it's luster. Especially of late with the Steelers reaching the Super Bowl three times in a decade and the Raiders being borderline irrelevant for most of those years. That isn't to say that this game should be an easy win though. Despite the different paths these two franchises have taken, the Steelers have had their struggles when playing in Oakland.

Steelers Offense vs. Raiders Defense: We saw last week what losing a key part in a secondary can do to a team. Darrelle Revis' absence from the New York Jets' lineup was integral in the Steelers' success passing the ball. The Raiders will be facing many of the same struggles this week. Shawntae Spencer will not be in the lineup and Coye Francies also may not play after sustaining a concussion. That could force Michael Huff to play corner and backup safety Matt Giordano to start. That doesn't bode well for a team who's minute success on defense to this point of the season has come from defending the pass.

The Raiders also possess a run defense that has struggled through the first two games. They are allowing 147.5 yards per game on the ground and they could be missing their best linebacker, Rolando McClain, who also has a concussion and may not play. That being said, the Steelers have done nothing to this point to prove that they can run the ball effectively. Even though Rashard Mendenhall has returned to practice, he's still not ready to play and Todd Haley seems reluctant to use who I feel is their best running back right now, Jonathan Dwyer, early in games.

If McClain's absence isn't taken advantage of by the Steelers on the ground, it most certainly will through the air. We have already seen Heath Miller be utilized in the offense more than I ever recall. Having the middle of the field opened up without McClain can cause one of two things. Either Miller is going to have a big day or he's going to draw the safeties towards the middle of the field and create more room for the playmakers on the outside.

Steelers Defense vs. Raiders Offense: If you were just going to look at numbers, you would think that the Raiders have a pretty decent offense. They average more yards per game then the Steelers. They have one of the best passing games statistically in the league. But that far from tells the whole story. The Raiders have been blown out in both of their games this year so they have been forced to throw the ball against prevent defenses for basically the entire second halves of games. That will rack up the yardage but this team doesn't score any points.

Carson Palmer was supposed to be the answer to all of Oakland's problems when he was brought over from Cincinnati last year but he has only seemed to cause more questions to be asked. This team has no identity. They give off the impression of being a running team with Darren McFadden in the backfield but they have been largely unsuccessful at it. They are second to last in the league in rushing, averaging just 34 yards on the ground per games. That's less than half as much as the team right above them, the Steelers.

The Steelers will once again be going into a game with Troy Polamalu and James Harrison on the field but they proved last week that they can handle that against an inferior opponent. While Palmer is far from as inept of a quarterback as the Mark Sanchez/Tim Tebow experiment, he is a quarterback that likes to turn the ball over. Creating splash plays defensively is going to be key in winning this game comfortably.

Prediction: The Steelers have not set the world on fire through the first two weeks of the season. Last week was a good win but the first half was anything but impressive. The Raiders, on the other hand, have been the equivalent of a tire fire. The worst of it came last week when they got absolutely throttled by a Miami team that isn't very good either. As long as they don't mess around with this team for two quarters like they did last week, I think it should be a win. Steelers 34, Raiders 16

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