On the surface, when you look at Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Oakland Raiders on paper, it appears that it will be a bit of a one-sided affair. The Steelers are coming off a dominating home performance, and the Raiders have struggled just to stay out of their own way. But there are a lot of factors in this game that force me to consider just how much of a classic trap game this could be for the Steelers.
When the Steelers are on offense – Regardless of who is running the football for the Steelers, whether it’s a combination of Johnathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman, or even if Rashard Mendenhall could return, they will get their yards. The Raiders are giving up rushing yards at a 4.7 yards per carry clip.
So far this season the Steelers have leaned heavily on their quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger. But I am going to go against the grain here and predict that the Steelers are going to come out and grind the football on the ground, setting up the deep pass. There’s no better medicine for an offensive line that is finding it’s way, and a committee of running backs – none of which seem to be able to take hold of the starting job – than to find a soft rush defense and just march down their necks. The Steelers know they have the pass game to fall back on, but I think they will commit to the run.
When the Steelers are on defense – It’s all about stopping the run. The Raiders best player is running back Darren McFadden, and I have to assume they are going to feed him the football. They’ve failed to win this season, and part of it is because they just aren’t committing to the run game like they should. I understand that McFadden is prone to injury, but he’s their best shot.
I expect the Steelers to stack the box, play man behind it, and make their plays 4 yards either side of the line of scrimmage. That means stopping McFadden before he can get going, and hit quarterback Carson Palmer every chance they get. The Raiders offensive line has struggled, so look for guys like linebackers LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons to coordinate pressures to throw Palmer off.
When the Raiders are on offense - As I said above, you have to think they are going to try and get McFadden going in the run game. It will shorten the game, keep the Steelers offense off the field. Oakland has to try and get into some sort of rhythm to let Palmer throw the football.
The talent on the Raiders offense isn’t great, so they must do their best to keep the chains moving, and finish drives with points. In the passing game, the Raiders have put up great stats (mainly from playing from behind so often), but if they can run enough to pull the safeties into the box and slow down the pass rush, I expect them to attack the Steelers off corners with their group of raw but athletic wide outs.
When the Raiders are on defense – I predicted above that the Steelers are going to try and grind it on the ground. The Raiders will need to use their front four that has the talent to win those one-on-one match-ups. There’s a good chance that linebacker Rolando McClain and cornerback Shawntee Spencer won’t play, so the role of the front four is heightened.
The Raiders have to be smart because if they have to slide safeties Tyvon Branch and Michael Huff up to support the run, Roethlisberger will start firing it down field. They have to do a better job pressuring Roethlisberger than the New York Jets did, but look at their game plan for how to defend the run.
Player to watch, Raiders - Running back Mike Goodson hasn’t established himself as a big running threat yet, but he does a great job as a safety valve in the passing game. If the Raiders are hoping to pop off a few big plays, it could be Goodson getting on the outside on a swing pass or wheel route that really helps them with momentum.
Player to watch, Steelers - Mike Wallace, wide receiver. It’s game 3 and that means it’s time for Wallace to start becoming the player he believes he should be paid like. The Steelers chose not to give Wallace a big contract extension for one reason because they wanted to see if he could do it again. This offense is led by a quarterback who loves to chuck it deep, so the opportunities will be there for him, and he could be a real difference maker.
The X-Factor - Head Coach Mike Tomlin. This entire situation just screams “trap game” to me. The Steelers rebounded from an embarrassing opening weekend loss with a big win. Now they have to travel all the way across the country and play a game they have no reason for them to lose against a team that has nothing to lose. It will be up to Tomlin to maintain the intensity of the team in practice this week and send them cross country to play in a hostile environment. If the Steelers come out flat, they could get shocked.
Prediction - I expect the Steelers to win this one handily. Having said that, if Tomlin doesn’t do his job, and this team comes out flat, McFadden could dice them up. But I will stay optimistic and believe that the Steelers are going to come out strong, run it down a beat up Raiders defense, and finish them off early.
Give me your prediction! Find me on Twitter @nfldraftboard and tell me how you think this NFL showdown will go down.