NFL Preview - Pittsburgh (1-1) at Oakland (0-2)|
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Another flight across the country is in store for the
Pittsburgh Steelers, and this time they hope it bears different results.
The Steelers opened the 2012 season at Denver in Peyton Manning's debut with
the Broncos and suffered a convincing 31-19 loss. They then headed back to
Western Pennsylvania and their home opener was a breeze, winning 27-10 versus
the New York Jets last Sunday.
At least Pittsburgh is traveling with a win in its back pocket for Sunday's
classic matchup against the Oakland Raiders. The storied rivalry will commence
before the Steelers, who will play four of the next six games away from the
Steel City, head into their bye week.
The Steelers are trying to start 2-1 for a second straight year and were 6-2
through the first eight weeks of the 2011 campaign. Their defense did the job
against a Jets team that pummeled Buffalo in Week 1, holding quarterback Mark
Sanchez to 138 yards passing with a touchdown and no interceptions. New York
finished with 219 total yards and couldn't get much of anything going, despite
Pittsburgh not having safety Troy Polamalu (calf) and linebacker James
Polamalu played in the Week 1 loss to the Broncos and Harrison has yet to make
his 2012 debut. The Steelers could use their top two playmakers on defense,
but are not in a hurry to rush them back.
"We are going to work day-to-day and look how their body responds to work,"
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. "We'll start with informal workouts and
work up to practice at some point and see where it all leads us. They are
potential assets to us, but as you know we focus on the guys that are healthy
Safety Ryan Clark played a big role against the Jets after being held out of
the Denver game due to his sickle-cell condition. Clark had eight tackles and
one pass breakup, and was pleased with his performance afterward.
"I had a lot of emotion," Clark said. "I had a lot of emotion. It was my first
game since the Cleveland game last year that I played in that meant anything."
Clark helped the Steelers win their 10th straight home opener, the longest
active streak in the league. Dating back to the 2011 regular season, the
Steelers have won seven of their last nine non-playoff games.
Oakland kicked off its season with a tough 22-14 loss versus San Diego, and
the losing trend continued last Sunday in a 35-13 road defeat to rookie
quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the Miami Dolphins.
The Raiders are 0-2 for the first time since 2007 and haven't lost their first
three games since starting 0-5 in 2006.
First-year head coach Dennis Allen was asked if he could take anything away
from last Sunday's game that saw the Raiders amass 396 total yards --
including 373 through the air -- but had only a 1-for-12 success rate on third
"I can't think of a lot of things off the top of my head," Allen said. "I
think the fact that we came back after that first series where they took the
ball down the field and scored -- our ability to come back there -- and then
the rest of the first quarter and the rest of the first half, come out with a
lead at halftime, I was pleased with that. But I wasn't pleased with the way
we came out in the second half."
Oakland was forced to abandon the run against the Dolphins and racked up just
23 yards on the ground. Twenty-two of those yards were compiled by Darren
McFadden, who touched the ball just 11 times after registering 15 carries and
making 13 receptions in a Week 1 matchup with the Chargers.
Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer played well in defeat, passing for 373 yards
with a touchdown and an interception, but faces a strong Steelers' secondary
regardless if Polamalu plays or not. He could use a solid run game, mostly
from McFadden, to be that much better in a challenging obstacle that awaits in
Oakland's return to the Coliseum.
"We're going to continue to run the ball because that's where the big plays in
this offense come from," Palmer said. "They come off the running game and
Darren's a guy that can score from anywhere on the field. We realize that and
defenses realize that, so we're not going to abandon it whatsoever. We're
going to continue to work at it, we're going to continue to get better at it
and he's going to get his chances because he's obviously a special talent and
we're going to get him his opportunities."
Raiders lead 10-9
Last Meeting: Steelers 35, Raiders 3 (Nov. 21, 2010 at Pittsburgh)
Last Meeting at Site: Raiders 20, Steelers 13 (Oct. 29, 2006)
Steelers HC Mike Tomlin vs. Raiders: 1-1
Raiders HC Dennis Allen vs. Steelers: 0-0
Tomlin vs. Allen Head-to-Head: First Meeting
Notes: Raiders had won two straight against the Steelers, including a 27-24
upset at Heinz Field during the 2009 season, before Pittsburgh's home rout the
following year. Steelers are making only their third visit to the Coliseum
since 1995, when the Black and Gold posted a 29-10 triumph over Oakland on
Dec. 10 of that year. These teams also share a storied postseason history,
having split six previous playoff meetings between 1972 and 1983 and facing
one another in the AFC Championship three straight years from 1974-76. The
most memorable of those postseason encounters was Pittsburgh's 13-7 victory on
the famed "Immaculate Reception" during the 1972 Divisional Round.
BY THE NUMBERS
Offensive Team Rankings
Pittsburgh: 25th overall (307.5 ypg), 30th rushing (70.5 ypg), 18th passing
(237.0 ypg), 17th scoring (23.0 ppg)
Oakland: 15th overall (358.5 ypg), 31st rushing (34.0 ypg), 3rd passing (324.5
ypg), 31st scoring (13.5 ppg)
Defensive Team Rankings
Pittsburgh: 7th overall (276.5 ypg), 11th rushing (92.0 ypg), 5th passing
(184.5 ypg), 9th scoring (20.5 ppg)
Oakland: 15th overall (355.0 ypg), 29th rushing (147.5 ypg), 8th passing
(207.5 ypg), 24th scoring (28.5 ppg)
Pittsburgh: +1 (2 takeaways, 1 giveaways)
Oakland: -2 (0 takeaways, 2 giveaways)
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (offense)
Pittsburgh: 57.1 percent (7 possessions, 4 TD, 3 FG) -- tied 15th overall
Oakland: 25.0 percent (4 possessions, 1 TD, 3 FG) -- tied 26th overall
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (defense)
Pittsburgh: 50.0 percent (6 possessions, 3 TD, 2 FG) -- tied 11th overall
Oakland: 50.0 percent (8 possessions, 4 TD, 4 FG) -- tied 11th overall
WHEN THE STEELERS HAVE THE BALL
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (520 yards, 4 TD, INT) completed 24 of his 31
passes for 275 yards and hooked up with Mike Wallace and Heath Miller for
touchdowns in Pittsburgh's win over the Jets. He hit 10 different receivers
and picked apart a Jets defense that was missing All-Pro defensive back
Darrelle Revis. Roethlisberger now has 27,099 career passing yards and is
approaching Terry Bradshaw's team record of 27,898 yards. "Big Ben". who
improved to 6-0 in home openers as a starter, is facing Oakland's eighth-
ranked pass defense this week, but could give the Raiders fits with his
ability to escape and is a tough quarterback to bring down even though he's
been sacked eight times already in two games. Roethlisberger also leads all
NFL quarterbacks in passer rating, passing yards and completions on third
downs this season. Wallace (9 receptions, 2 TD) has a touchdown catch in each
of his first two games and hauled in a 37-yard scoring strike last week. He
can stretch the field and had five catches for 74 yards against the Jets.
Antonio Brown (11 receptions, 53 yards) leads the Steelers in receptions and
receiving yards at the other wide receiver spot, while the run game has
struggled without the injured Rashard Mendenhall (knee). Jonathan Dwyer
(71 rushing yards) and Isaac Redman (45 rushing yards, 1 TD) shared the
running load against the Jets and will do so again this week.
The Raiders' secondary will be tested Sunday, and cornerback Pat Lee (5
tackles) must be prepared for Pittsburgh's speedy wideouts. Lee made his
second career start and first with Oakland against the Dolphins with Ron
Bartell placed on injured reserve after hurting his shoulder in the opener.
Oakland has yet to record an interception this season, but safety Tyvon Branch
(12 tackles) made his 50th start in a row. He and linebacker Philip Wheeler
(14 tackles) both had seven stops this past weekend, while new cornerback
Joselio Hanson (6 tackles) posted six stops. Perhaps the Steelers will try to
resurrect their ground game this week, since Oakland had so much trouble
stopping Miami's. The Dolphins racked up 262 rushing yards, 172 of which came
from Reggie Bush, who also scored twice. End Matt Shaughnessy (8 tackles, 1
1/2 sacks) did have an 11-yard sack in the second quarter for Oakland last
Sunday and shared a sack with end David Tollefson (4 tackles, 0.5 sacks) in
the season opener. The Raiders will have to keep Pittsburgh off the field in
order to give Palmer and the offense an opportunity to get into a rhythm.
WHEN THE RAIDERS HAVE THE BALL
Palmer (670 passing yards, 2 TD, INT) is third in the league in passing yards
behind only Eli Manning and Michael Vick, and has had no other choice but to
throw with the running game on the fritz. He is aiming to solve Pittsburgh's
tough defense that is seventh overall in yards allowed (276.5 ypg) and fifth
against the pass (184.5 ypg). Palmer connected with nine different receivers
and completed 24 of his 48 pass attempts against Miami, and has thrown for
300-plus yards five times with the Silver and Black. He had a streak of 93
straight passes without an interception come to an end in Miami, however.
Tight end Brandon Myers (11 receptions, 151 yards) led the team with 86
receiving yards on six receptions in the loss, and his 151 receiving yards are
a team-high. Speedy wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (7 receptions) caught
four passes for 41 yards, while McFadden (54 rushing yards) has a team-best 15
receptions for 105 yards. He has yet to find his niche as a runner this
season, however. For how poorly the run game has been for Oakland, the
offensive line has allowed just three sacks -- all in Week 1 against San
Diego. Right tackle Khalif Barnes played in his 100th career game last Sunday
before leaving with a groin injury that will sideline him for this contest,
with Willie Smith expected to take over.
Pittsburgh traditionally has a tough defense and held the Jets to 4-of-12 on
third down conversion attempts last week. The Steelers suffocated the Jets'
offense as time went on and held the unit to less than 100 yards after the
game's first two drives. Clark (8 tackles) appeared to be in great shape after
sitting out the season opener, while linebacker Larry Foote (16 tackles, sack)
was second on the team in stops with seven. Cornerback Ike Taylor held New
York's receivers in check and came away with two of the team's five passes
defensed. Ryan Mundy (8 tackles) started for Clark in Week 1 and played well
filling in for Polamalu last week, and he also recovered a muffed punt late in
the third quarter. The Raiders have had trouble getting the run game started
and face a Steelers defense that gave up just 90 yards on the ground to the
Jets and forced New York to punt six times on its last eight possessions. New
York's offense crossed midfield just once in the second half. Linebacker
LaMarr Woodley (5 tackles, 1 sack) has 10 sacks dating back to the 2011
regular season and needs just one to become the eighth player in team history
The Raiders and Steelers each have one of the most storied histories in the
NFL, but the latter will show why they have the most Super Bowl victories
between the legendary AFC squads on Sunday. Pittsburgh has played very well on
the road as of late, winning 12 of their past 17 games away from the Steel
City and four of the last six. With a healthy Roethlisberger and a gaggle of
young wide receivers, there's no need for a strong run game right now. They
may get one this week, however, given how poorly the Raiders played run
defense against Miami. The Steelers have also been tough in September under
Tomlin, having gone 13-6 with him in charge for the most wins in the AFC and
second-highest total in the NFL (behind Green Bay's 14) since 2007. Palmer
will get his numbers, but it won't be enough to prevent an 0-3 start to the
season for Oakland.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Steelers 31, Raiders 13
09/20 16:53:52 ET