By Matthew Marczi
The Pittsburgh Steelers are on the west coast hoping to continue a two-game hot streak against the Oakland Raiders, against whom they have had their share of recent misfortunes. Last week saw Le’Veon Bell begin to come into his own and the offensive line begin to gel, and the Steelers are hoping that those trends continue today.
The Raiders received the ball first after the Steelers deferred, and it could not have gotten off to much worse of a start, as Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor ran the ball on the ground for a touchdown from 93 yards out and an early 7-0 lead.
Trying to get the score right back, Ben Roethlisberger looked for Antonio Brown deep on the Steelers’ first play on offense, but there was too much air on the ball. He had a clean pocket on second down, but could not find anybody open before finally dumping off the pass to Heath Miller for one yard. On third and nine, Miller could not hold on to the pass to force a three-and-out.
The Raiders then returned the punt out past midfield, but the Steelers nearly caught a break when Jacoby Ford fumbled the ball before it spilled out of bounds.
The Steelers forced a three-and-out when William Gay helped break up a third down pass, however, even with the Raiders attempting to draw an offsides on fourth down, and the ensuing punt went out of the end zone.
Starting from the 20, rookie Le’Veon Bell ran the ball three yards on first down, and picked up another three on second to set up third and four. The Steelers ran a screen, but it was blown up for a loss by Mike Jenkins to force another punt.
That punt, by the way, was tipped by the Raiders, and the Steelers were then penalized for being the first team to touch the ball after the block, which set the Raiders up at the 26. It does not appear that those odd misfortunes plan on ending today.
LaMarr Woodley nearly sacked Pryor on second down, but he got the pass off for a loss. On third and 10, Denarius Moore beat Ike Taylor for the first down into the red zone. Two plays later, Darren McFadden ran the ball in for the score to take an embarrassing 14-0 lead.
Jonathan Dwyer received the kick and returned the ball out pass the 25. Roethlisberger faked a screen pass on first down and instead dumped it to Bell, who took it 11 yards for the first down. Miller appeared to drop another pass; however, Mike Tomlin challenged the ruling, and it was overturned. Miller lost the ball once he was brought to the ground after he was tackled awkwardly on his surgically repaired knee. The reception was just barely good enough for a first down, making it back-to-back first downs after two straight three-and-outs.
After the first down, Le’Veon Bell attempted to bounce a run outside, but the defensive end adjusted to the play and brought him down for a three-yard loss. Antonio Brown picked up six on a screen on second down to set up third and long. Roethlisberger’s third down pass was off the mark, as he was not on the sage page with his receiver, also influenced by pressure from the left side. Zoltan Mesko’s punt sailed out of bounds, giving him yet another poor punt for his resume and continuing to make the case for Drew Butler.
On the Raiders’ second play after the punt, Pryor had all day to throw after good protection, but finally tucked it away and rushed for nine yards. McFadden easily converted the third and one. Woodley nearly got to Pryor again, but the quarterback escaped and got a pass off, which was dropped. Running back Rashard Jennings picks up three on second down.
On third and seven, the Steelers got just their third turnover of the season after both Woodley and Jarvis Jones pressure Pryor. The young quarterback launched a pass that sailed over his receivers’ heads and into the arms of Troy Polamalu who returned it just past midfield.
Roethlisberger hit Jerricho Cotchery for a first down after the interception. Sio Moore came in unblocked on the next play for a sack. On second and 17, Brown picked up 11 yards, however, to set up a manageable third down. Emmanuel Sanders came up short for the first down, but the extra yardage put the Steelers in better position for a 47-yard Shaun Suisham field goal, giving him 15 field goals on 15 tries this year. I believe 47 was his longest of the year.
The Steelers were able to bury the Raiders deep after the return man fumbled the ball and was tackled within his own 10. A tight end pitch was good for eight on first down, and a second down run was enough for a new set of downs. Pryor looked deep on first down, but the ball was overthrown. Woodley got a hit on the quarterback on the play. On third down, Pryor did a nice job of throwing under pressure for a first down. However, Polamalu was able to get a hand on the pass three plays later to force a punt on third and eight.
During the last drive, Ramon Foster was taken to the locker room to be evaluated for a concussion. Guy Whimper, who earned praise for his work as a fill-in at right tackle the week before, stepped in at left guard, where he spent some time during the preseason.
The Steelers turned to the Wildcat to open their next possession, with Bell taking the direct snap for three yards on first down. Bell broke a tackle just to escape a loss on second down. On third and five, the Steelers were flagged for a false start. On third down, Roethlisberger not only threw the pass out of bounds, he threw the pass out of bounds after he already crossed the line of scrimmage. The penalty included a loss of down to force another punt.
The Steelers almost caught a break, as the Raiders fumbled yet another return, this time on a punt, and Pittsburgh eventually recovered. Antwon Blake was the first on the scene, but when the dust settled, it was Shamarko Thomas who emerged from the pile with the ball. The officials ruled that Blake touched the ball first, and the ruling was upheld on a challenge, leaving the Steelers without a challenge for the rest of the game.
The Raiders quickly drove down the field on some big plays using play-action. Inside the 20, Pryor once again escaped pressure for a nine-yard gain to set up third and one, which was converted by McFadden. Tomlin took a timeout to help slow the Raiders down, but two plays later McFadden took a direct snap into the end zone for a 21-3 lead.
To start the ensuing drive, the Raiders dropped Felix Jones for a loss and then sacked Roethlisberger to set up third and 20. The Raiders took a timeout with 1:21 to play, licking their lips to get the ball back again before halftime. The third down pass went for seven yards to Antonio Brown, but Sanders was flagged for pass interference. The penalty was declined, and Mesko left another kick short.
On the first play, however, Cortez Allen intercepted the pass after the receiver bobbled the ball. Roethlisberger’s first pass went for 21 yards to Brown at the sidelines. Bad blood ignited quickly after an incomplete pass on the next play, which resulted in a brawl that sent bodies flying to the ground. The offensive line took umbrage at the Raiders taking liberties with their quarterback after the pass. There was no penalty, however, and the ensuing play was a screen pass to Jones for a first down.
Roethlisberger’s third down pass was high to Jones and nearly intercepted. Had he caught it, the Steelers would have had a hard time getting the field goal unit in position in time. Suisham did Roethlisberger and Jones the favor of shanking the field goal anyway to send the Steelers into halftime down 21-3 instead of 21-6.