Pittsburgh Steelers: 5 Things to Watch Sunday vs. Oakland Raiders
Pittsburgh Steelers: 5 Things to Watch Sunday vs. Oakland Raiders
The Pittsburgh Steelers will look to win their third straight game on Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. This is a big game for Pittsburgh. If they grab this win and the Cleveland Browns lose on Sunday, they will move up to second place in the AFC North, trailing only the Cincinnati Bengals. But this isn't a Steelers/Raiders game like we're used to seeing in the last ten years or so. The Raiders are a much improved team. Terrelle Pryor is establishing himself early on in his career as a quarterback with a lot of potential. Darren McFadden, although he's struggled recently, is a very talented player, and he did rush for 113 yards against the Steelers last season. While Oakland is by no means a good football team, they have some players that can present matchup issues for Pittsburgh. Oakland, after all, did win the last matchup 34-31 in 2012.
Both teams going into the game are 2-4 on the season. The Raiders are coming off of a bye week, but their last game resulted in an embarrassing loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, 24-7, in which Pryor threw three picks and completed 18-of-34 passes. The week before that, however, they defeated the San Diego Chargers in a surprising fashion, 27-17 at Qualcomm Stadium, so the Raiders are a dangerous team on offense. The Steelers defeated the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens in the last two weeks. They scored 19 points in both those games and held those teams to an average of 11 points -- certainly a huge step up from the 27.5 points allowed in the first four games. The Raiders have some upcoming talents on their team other than Terrelle Pryor. Denarius Moore is just one good example, as he's turned into the most reliable receiver on this team. The matchup between him and Ike Taylorshould be an interesting one.
At the end of the day, I like the Steelers to win this game. The Raiders thrive on throwing the ball down the field, which the Steelers have defended well, especially in the last two weeks. They're 9th in the league in rushing, but that's mainly thanks to Terrelle Pryor scrambling. On the other end, the Raiders have struggled to defend the pass, even with the acquisition of Charles Woodson. At the end of the day, I like the Steelers in this one.
FINAL SCORE PREDICTION:
Steelers 21, Raiders 18
5. Stop The Rush
The most dangerous player on the Raiders is without a doubt quarterback Terrelle Pryor. While quarterbacks are only averaging about eight rushing yards per game against the Steelers, Pryor is averaging 57 YPG on the ground. The Steelers can't allow Pryor to escape and scramble because he will burn them if he gets past the front four. They especially need to shut down the option of him scrambling on third downs, because he will pick up that yardage. Although Darren McFadden has been very inconsistent the last few seasons, he is still a threat that can break loose at any moment. Just look back at his 64-yard touchdown run last season when these teams met. In that game last September, McFadden rushed for 113 yards on just 18 carries. For a lack of better words, he smoked Pittsburgh's front four and linebackers. Perhaps the biggest key to this game will be the Steelers stopping the Raiders' run game. Although Oakland's offensive line isn't anything special, neither is the Steelers' defensive line.
4. Get the Run Game Going!
3. Heath Miller
Earlier on in the season, Ben Roethlisberger seemed very uncomfortable with his receiving corps outside of Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. Heath Millermissed the first two games of the season and was limited in Week 3. When the Steelers couldn't get the running game going against the New York Jets, Heath Miller came up big, ending the game with six receptions. Miller will have a big impact on this game. In last season's matchup, Heath snatched eight balls for 60 yards including two touchdowns. With Roethlisberger still struggling somewhat with his receivers, Heath is someone he's always comfortable with and he'll be very vital to this victory.
2. Force Turnovers
The Raiders' turnover differential is currently at zero, but the Raiders have lost every game this season where the quarterback has thrown more than one interception by an average point differential of ten. Interceptions will be big. The Steelers need to pressure Terrelle Pryor into making rash decisions because young quarterbacks struggle against this secondary. If the Steelers can defend the long ball and play mind games with Pryor down the field, they should be fine. On the contrary, the Raiders find ways to even out their turnovers, so the Steelers need to hold onto the ball. Last season the Raiders won the turnover battle 2-1, and the game was decided by just a field goal, so the Steelers need to win the turnover battle. The Steelers lost two fumbles to the Raiders last season, and the Raiders have forced opposing teams to lose six fumbles this season. Ball protection will be key.
1. Kicker Matchup
No, this is not a joke. With both team's rushing defenses and passing struggles this season, this game may very well come down to field goals.Shaun Suisham is 14-for-14 on the year, and Sebastian Janikowski is 8-for-10 but has the strongest leg in the game's history. The Raiders have the edge in the kicking game because of Janikowski's range. He has the NFL's longest field goal ever, while Suisham's career long is just 52 yards (twice). On top of that, Shaun Suisham hasn't attempted a field goal over 49 yards this season. If it comes down to field goals, the Steelers will have to get further down the field than the Raiders will. Also, there is a chance that this game will end with a kick for the win. Both of these kickers have proven they are very clutch and can win games with their legs. Janikowski did it against the Steelers last season and Suisham did it just last week. It may sound silly, but the kicker matchup will be crucial in this game.
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