The Steelers have to learn from the 2009 collapse and not let a repeat of start Sunday against the Raiders. The Oakland Raiders are a better team then the won that beat the Steelers last season. This week and next week in Buffalo are really must win games if you look at the December schedule. Below are what we deem to be 7 keys to the game for the Steelers to beat the Raiders in week 11.
Just Run Stop, Baby – Only 3 teams are running more than passing in the NFL and the Raiders are one of those teams. They are averaging 162.2 yards rushing per game this season, which is second in NFL and have totaled at least 25 rush attempts and at least 100 yards on the ground in each of their nine games this season. The Steelers boasts the No. 1 run defense in the league. The Raiders offensive line likes to wash out both left and right and opposing linebackers can get caught up in that wash. Ziggy Hood, Nick Eason and Casey Hampton need to avoid being swept out and linebackers Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior must shed their blocks and not miss the power runners of Darren McFadden and Michael Bush. The Raiders must be forced out of their running game on 2nd and 3rd downs as much as possible so quarterback Jason Campbell is forced to make plays with his arm. Raiders offensive coordinator Hue Jackson knows the Steelers defense well after spending time with the Bengals and the Ravens.
Mendy You Were Born To Run – If there was ever a game that Rashard Mendenhall and the offensive line could win on their own, this would be it. The Raiders run defense is giving up 4.5 yards per carry and 124.8 yards per game on the ground. Mendenhall is averaging just 4.2 yards per carry this year and has only had 25 or more rushing attempts in a game twice this year. Over the last 4 games, he is averaging less than 16 carries a game. The Steelers offensive line has been devastated by injuries this year and is better served to run block more than pass block. By running well, it will open up some deep shots to the receivers as well by using play action.
Attack Asomugha Ankle – With Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha nursing a sprained ankle, corners Stanford Routt or Chris Johnson might be asked to run with with Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace. Wallace is hard to cover when 100% healthy, so regardless of who covers him, the Steelers must test them deep as well as over the middle. Asomugha is a shut down corner when he is healthy, the Steelers must make him prove he is healthy if he plays on Sunday by making him cover some young legs like Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders. If Routt or Johnson draw most of the coverage on Wallace, then that is a clear mismatch that should be focused on. I expect a few deep connections on Sunday to Wallace.
Help With Mike Wallace Jr. – Raiders owner Al Davis loves speed and has a new toy in speedster Jacoby Ford. Ford, like Wallace, likes to take the top off of coverages and Steelers left cornerback Bryant McFadden might draw the most coverage on him and nickel cornerback William Gay might get him a few snaps as well. The Steelers must give safety help over the top because Ford can easily outrun any Steelers corner on the skinny post. Ford can be gone quick after the catch as well so the Steelers must do a solid job wrapping him up quickly on the underneath catches they have been known to give up. It should also be noted that Ford also is the Raiders kick returner. Keep that in the back of your head.
Campbell Soup & Nuts – The Steelers did not do a good job at all getting pressure on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady last week and paid dearly for it. Outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley must provide constant pressure on Campbell on passing downs and force him into throws he does not want to make or sack him. The Raiders offensive line was built to run and has given up 26 sacks on the season. They have averaged a sack allowed per every 10.5 pass attempts, which ranks them 30th in the NFL in that stat. Campbell has been pretty productive on 3rd downs when given time as 20 of 27 completions on 3rd down have resulted in 1st downs. The Steelers can not rely on the front three to do anything but control the running game. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau must blitz more often off the edges and disguise it better pre-snap.
Finish Them – Outside of center Maurkice Pouncey, the offensive line has struggled this year in finishing blocks in both the running and passing game. It is not new that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger likes to hold the ball a long time in the pocket. The offensive line has not played through the whistle quite a bit this year and as beat up as they are, need to take advantage of any extended play in the pocket that they can. Plain and simple, keep your man blocked until the whistle blows and they play is over.
Fresh Sushi – Sunday will mark the first time in 8 years that a kicker other than Jeff Reed has kicked for the Steelers during the regular season. The Heinz Field faithful will be brutal on new kicker Shaun Suisham should he miss any attempts on Sunday. Head coach Mike Tomlin will not likely have trust in a new guy for anything longer than 45 years. If Suisham wants to get in good with his new teammates and fans, he will be 100% on all extra points and field goals as well as providing a couple of touchbacks on some kickoffs and keeping the ball out of the hands of Ford that I mentioned earlier. Hopefully the game does not come down to an overtime battle of kickers as the Raiders Sebastian Janikowski remains one of the best and highest paid for a reason. For the love of God, Shaun, please, don\’t miss.
Steelers Raiders Game Prediction – This game will be one we circle on the calendar if the Steelers lose on Sunday. The Steelers match up well on paper, but games are not played that way. I think you will see a revitalized Steelers offense this week that will pound the ball against the Raiders defense on the ground and mix in a few big plays in the passing game. I also see about 3 sacks of Campbell on the day and the defense creating a few turnovers. The line is 7 points and I see the Steelers winning by 10.
Final Score: Steelers 30 Raiders 20