Pittsburgh Steelers 2012 Schedule Preview: Week 3 Analysis Versus Oakland Raiders

By Christopher DiMarino

This is another entry in a set of early looks at the teams the Pittsburgh Steelers will play in the 2012-13 season. The goal is to acclimate the average Steelers fan to the offseason changes each team has made. This will make the in-depth analysis in the week before the game more familiar and understandable.

Who: Oakland Raiders vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

What: Week 3 Regular Season Matchup

Where: O.co Coliseum

When: 4:25 EST Sunday September 23rd, 2012

How: CBS

Key Free Agent Additions and Losses:

Key Free Agent Additions and Losses
PositionName2011 Team2012 TeamRole
RBMike GoodsonCarolina PanthersOakland Raiders2nd String Backup
WRDuke CalhounNew York GiantsOakland Raiders2nd String Backup
GMike BrisielHouston TexansOakland Raiders1st String Backup
DEDave TollefsonNew York GiantsOakland Raiders1st String Backup
OLBPhilip WheelerIndianapolis ColtsOakland Raiders1st String Backup
CBPatrick LeeGreen Bay PackersOakland Raiders3rd String Backup
CBShawnte SpencerSan Francisco 49ersOakland Raiders3rd String Backup
CBRonald BartellSt Louis RamsOakland RaidersStarter
QBTrent EdwardsOakland RaidersPhiladelphia EaglesDepth
QBJason CampbellOakland RaidersChicago BearsStarter
RBMichael BushOakland RaidersChicago BearsInjury Starter
RBRock CartwrightOakland RaidersSan Francisco 49ersBackup
WRChaz SchilensOakland RaidersNew York Jets3rd String Backup
TEKevin BossOakland RaidersKansas City ChiefsStarter
OT/GBruce CampbellOakland RaidersCarolina Panthers1st String Backup
OTStephon HeyerOakland RaidersNew York Jets1st String Backup
CSamson SateleOakland RaidersIndianapolis ColtsStarter
DETrevor ScottOakland RaidersNew England Patriots1st String Backup
OLBQuentin GrovesOakland RaidersArizona Cardinals1st String Backup
OLBCameron WimblyOakland RaidersTennessee TitansStarter
CBStanford RouttOakland RaidersKansas City ChiefsStarter
QBRhett BomarOakland RaidersCutDepth
QBKyle BollerOakland RaidersUFA1st String Backup
FBJames McCluskyOakland RaidersCutDepth
WRTJ HoushmanzadehOakland RaidersUFA3rd String Backup
WRDerrick JonesOakland RaidersCutDepth
DTJohn HendersonOakland RaidersCut/Retired1st String Backup
DT/DEDesmond BryantOakland RaidersRFA1st String Backup
DEJarvis MossOakland RaidersUFAStarter
MLBDarryl BlackstockOakland RaidersUFA1st String Backup
CBChris JohnsonOakland RaidersCut1st String Backup
CBLito SheppardOakland RaidersUFAStarter
SHiram EugeneOakland RaidersCut1st String Backup
SJerome BoydOakland RaidersUFA2nd String Backup

The Oakland Raiders have made a lot of changes this offseason. They lost 7 starters and 12 players who were either immediate backups or part time contributors. The scary fact is that out of losing 26 players, they’ve only signed 8, of which only half of those players have a shot at being starters. The salary cap had a lot to do with this turnover, but part of it must be an organization wide revamp. One thing is guaranteed, the Raiders will look very different this season.

When Jason Campbell suffered an injury in Week 6, the Raiders traded for Carson Palmer. This move led to Campbell signing with the Chicago Bears this offseason. Another contributing factor to this turnover was Terrelle Pryor, who was taken in the supplemental draft. The plan appears to be letting Palmer play and Pryor groom, but considering he only had a 3rd round value, it will be interesting to see if Oakland tries for a quarterback in the draft next year.

The Raiders have one of the most exciting running backs in football. Darren McFadden has big play potential, but has struggled with injuries. Michael Bush filled in the blanks and did very well nearly rushing for 1000 yards and scoring 7 times. Bush and fellow backup Rock Cartwright are now out of the picture and the only replacement is Mike Goodson, who didn’t even get a carry in the talented Carolina Panthers backfield. Taiwan Jones looks like he could put something together, but he is green and a long shot to get carries.

The rest of the offensive positions mainly swapped backups. At wide receiver, Chaz Schilens went to the New York Jets, and was replaced by Duke Calhoun, who previously played for the Giants. The Raiders released tight end Kevin Boss who they signed to a 4 year contract just one year earlier. The former Giant had a poor year amassing under 400 yards and only 3 scores. However, the only real prospective starter currently on the roster is Brandon Myers, who had a very tame year (151 yards and 0 touchdowns). Losing Samson Satele might be their biggest offensive loss due to the cap. Rookie guard Stefen Wisniewski will move back to his natural position at center and offseason acquisition Mike Brisiel has the inside track to start at guard.

The defense is a much different story. This Raiders unit lost its 3 top corners, but retained both starting safeties. While these corners weren\’t stars, no matter who they get, losing your top 3 players at any position is huge. The 3 new corners that they signed are not good enough to replace those who were lost. While Ronald Bartell could step up, Pat Lee and Shawntae Spencer are special teamers.

The defensive front changed almost as radically as the secondary. They are without both outside linebackers who started the 2011 season. They are also missing five 1st string backups. To offset this, they signed Philip Wheeler to start and backup David Tollefson for depth. The magnitude of changes on this Defense utterly shocked me. I can\’t think of another example of such a broad set of changes over only one season.

2012 Draft Analysis:

2012 Draft Recap
OTTony Bergstrom3.32 (92nd)Utah6\’5313
OLBMiles Burris4.34 (129th)San Diego St.6\’2246
DEJack Crawford5.23 (158th)Penn State6\’5274
WRJuron Criner5.33 (168th)Arizona6\’3224
DEChristo Bilukidi6.19 (189th)Georgia State6\’4311
OLBNathan Stupar7.23 (230th)Penn State6\’2241

It’s hard to look at the Raiders draft without cringing. They didn’t have pick until the end of the 3rd round, and outside of 3 compensatory picks, only had their original 5th and 6th rounder. Oakland traded their 1st round pick (with a conditional 2nd round pick in 2013) to the Bengals for Palmer. They traded their 2nd round pick to the New England Patriots for picks in the previous draft (3rd and 4th round picks but also sent their 2011 7th). Oakland forfeited their 3rd round pick in the 2011 supplemental draft for Pryor. Oakland had traded their 4th round pick to the Washington Redskins for quarterback Campbell last year. Campbell was not resigned this past season and signed with the Bears.

When you look at how many trades the Raiders made that involved ascertaining quarterbacks, it’s astounding. They lost their 1st, 3rd and 4th round picks and they now have nothing but question marks at the position. Oakland did make a couple of good moves that impacted the 2012 draft. They increased their number of picks by trading their 5th round pick (148th) to the Detroit Lions for their 5th (158th) and 7th round picks. Oakland’s only other good trade was the 7th round pick (and conditional mid round pick in 2013) they gave up for now starting outside linebacker Aaron Curry (4th overall pick in 2009 draft).

For the sake of the Week 3 matchup against the Steelers, this draft means almost nothing. Typically, it’s a stretch to project drafted players to start this far out, but the Raiders didn’t even select a player until the rest of the league had claimed 91 others. I appreciate that they drafted 2 of only 5 Canadian players (Crawford and Bilukidi) taken in the draft, but not one of their players should see a single snap in Week 3. Bergstrom and Burris should be 1st string backups but the others will be buried deep in the depth chart. The wildcard of this draft is Criner. Many (including Dave’Te Thomas) raved about this kid and projected that he’d be drafted much earlier. NFL.com projected he should be one of the top 5 wide receivers taken in 2012. His inconsistency and lack of speed are the flags against him. He can get lazy in his blocking and route running, but has reliable hands and should use his size to compliment the numerous speedy receivers currently on the roster.

Coaching Staff:

The Raiders have a brand new coaching staff to prepare this new roster. The team has a new face at almost every coaching position. Outside of running backs coach Kelly Skipper, only assistants are returning for their second plus season as a Raiders coach. This is clearly a team that wants to start over and is rebuilding. The unfortunate part of this rebuild is that it will take time. Time to get the schemes the coaches want to institute and gather the players for these roles. Developing said players to gain expertise and perform in these roles will come after that.

The new head coach is Dennis Allen. He spent the last season as the defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos and he led a defense that was average on many accounts but could pressure the quarterback and performed when it mattered most. He is the first defensive oriented coach to lead the Raiders since John Madden (1978). Before Denver he was a part of the coaching staffs for the Atlanta Falcons and coached the secondary for the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints (2009). He becomes a head coach after being a lead coordinator for only 1 year. He relieves Hue Jackson as Head Coach who was the Offensive Coordinator in 2010, promoted to Head Coach in 2011 and fired at the end of the 2011 season. Jackson is now the secondary coach for the Cincinnati Bengals.

Greg Knapp takes over the role of Offensive Coordinator from Al Saunders, who remains on the staff as a Senior Offensive Assistant. An interesting connection to make is that Jackson was hired to replace Knapp as the Offensive Coordinator in Atlanta. Knapp has been the Offensive Coordinator the Falcons, Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and Raiders. He has a strong pedigree as a balanced coordinator with a strong run game and effective quarterback play. He has been in Houston for the past two seasons molding Matt Schaub into an elite quarterback.

The Defensive Coordinator hired for the 2012 season is Jason Tarver.

Last Year\’s Stats:

2011 Team Stats
StatRaidersRankSteelersRankNFL Average
Pass Yards/Game247.611253.410229.7
Rush Yards/Game131.97118.914117.1
First Downs/Game20.51121.3919.5
Interceptions (2011)2327151716
Interception Rate4.39%312.78%182.91%
Fumbles Lost (2011)78132610
Sacks Allowed (2011)254422337
Sack Rate4.77%77.79%236.82%
Avg Time of Possession29:51:002032:33:00230:00:00
StatRaidersRankSteelersRankNFL Average
Pass Yards/Game251.427171.91229.7
Rush Yards/Game136.12799.88117.1
First Downs/Game23.13116.5119.5
Interceptions (2011)1812112416
Interception Rate3.00%152.08%242.91%
Fumbles Recovered (2011)82443010
Sacks (2011)3915351737
Sack Rate6.49%196.60%186.82%
StatRaidersRankSteelersRankNFL Average
Punt Return Avg For8.32410.5139.9
Punt Return Avg Against13.5328.4129.9
Kick Return Avg For23.51825.1823.8
Kick Return Avg Against25.72723.71623.8
Field Goals Made88.57%674.19%3182.89%
StatRaidersRankSteelersRankNFL Average
Turnover Differential-422-13280
3rd Down % Offense35.68%2145.92%438.00%
3rd Down % Defense42.01%2538.91%1938.00%
4th Down % Offense53.85%937.50%1943.26%
4th Down % Defense28.57%561.54%2843.26%
Red Zone % Offense51.06%1650.94%1852.18%
Red Zone % Defense58.82%2654.84%1752.18%

Looking at the stats for teams from last year is always difficult. The Raiders in particular push this even further. The degree of changes on their roster and coaching staff will severely limit the correlation to their 2012 team. Overall the Raiders had a tough 2011 season on defense, bad special teams and lower than average efficiency. Their offense however did perform well, but settled for a lot of field goals. The defense performed poorly in terms of yards allowed but generated an average amount of sacks and interceptions.

One of the shocking stats I noticed from the Raiders 2011 season is their passing yards. They ranked 11th in the league in this category to go along with the 7th ranked run offense. The Raiders did a great job of using the run game to augment their passing game. Outside of play action and opposing defenses focusing on the run, they knew how to use their backs in the passing game. Their running backs accounted for almost 1000 of the over 4000 yards the Raiders got in the passing game. This trend of backs in the pass game also helped when they stretched the field to their speedy receivers. Denarius Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Jacoby Ford accounted for over 20 plays of 20+ yards.

The Raiders defense was one of the biggest reasons they missed the playoffs last season. They were near the bottom of the NFL in Yards and Points against. They allowed opponents to pass and rush at will and march the field allowing the 2nd most amount of first downs. They were able to get an average amount of secondary stats (sacks, interceptions and forced fumbles) but they will need to limit the yards allowed to be competitive.

Special teams was almost as bad for the Raiders as their defense. While Sebastian Janikowski continues to destroy the ball with great efficiency, the Raiders were not good at returning and even worse at covering. The Raiders had a better season in terms of efficiency, but still had their issues. They finished a -4 in terms of turnover differential which ranked 22nd in the league. Their 3rd down efficiency ranked approximately the same. Their 4th down percentage was much better and their Defense was the 5th best in the league.

Final Remarks:

I have to admit the Raiders have wowed me. I never could\’ve believed that a team could change so much in one offseason. These changes were made without high draft picks or high profile free agents. The death of Al Davis would have inevitably led to a change though. Losing such a big piece of an organization would have rippling effects. So in some ways I respect how the Raiders decided to take this change to the extreme and bear the burden now.

I\’ve never had a very defined leaning on the Raiders. I have never really liked them because they seem like a hollow shell of the team that inspired all the crazed fans. I\’ve never hated them because they seem to pull out some mystery wins or draft correctly every once in a while. Having Palmer as the face of the franchise won\’t fly for long. I wonder if they plan to fully create their team around the 32 year old veteran. A quarterback in his position could probably last another half a decade or more, but I\’ve never really been sold on Palmer as a franchise guy. With so many teams gambling on high round quarterbacks to base their team around for success, I wonder how long he will stick given that the Raiders are headed for what should be a dreadful season.

New coaches to me are much more serious detriments than new players. While every hire could end up being a stellar choice, each coach needs to get his players familiar with his nuances. This takes time, and no number of talented players can speed that up. Mixing in what will be several brand new players should pay dividends in the long run, but could be bad for this season. I think that the Raiders are ready to turn the page of a new, different book. They have begun the hardest step and that\’s laying down the groundwork, but I can\’t help but think that if they\’re able to draft a solid player to anchor the teams development, that they will be a playoff threat in a few years.

Key Stat:

Palmer is no stranger to the Steelers as he has led the Bengals against the Steelers 13 times in the past 7 years. While he has only won about 1/3rd of the games, his familiarity is concerning. He averaged about 200 yards and a quarterback ranking of 77.0 in his career against Pittsburgh. On the bright side, he throws just over a touchdown a game and almost as many interceptions. A parting thought to consider is that Palmer has had only 4 bad games against the Steelers and 3 of those are were when he was on the road. While Palmer might not be fully comfortable with his surroundings in Oakland, the fact that this game isn\’t in the all too familiar Heinz Field could give Palmer the edge he needs to get a victory for his team.

2005H (Playoffs)L6610000118.8