NFL Playoff Race: Raiders Keys to Beating the Steelers

Andrew Flores – Nov 3, 2015

It is week 9 and the Oakland Raiders are facing what is a must win situation as they travel to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers. A win this week solidifies playoff ambitions for this young Raiders team, but this will likely be the toughest challenge the Raiders’ defense will face all season. Last week the Raiders’ offense exploded as Carr threw 4 touchdowns and Latavius Murray rushed for 115 yards. The Raiders committed to the run game and were able to bully a brutish Jets defense. The Raiders’ defense dominated the Jet’s offense injuring both of the quarterbacks and imposing their will on the Jets throughout the game. This week the Raiders’ defense will need to step up last week the game hinged on the Raiders’ offense this week the game hinges on defense.

The Steelers currently sit at 4-4, and these Steelers are not the same old Steelers. The Steelers have really undergone an identity shift in the last two seasons. For a long time the Steelers’ identity was very much reflective of defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. Under LeBeau the Steeler’s defense was consistently a challenging unit often imposing their will on an opposing offense.  The Steelers hard-hitting defense punished teams, as defensive standouts like Troy Polamalu would bully opponents. The Steelers have lost a lot of the talent defensively and the staff has done an excellent job of highlighting the roster’s strengths and utilizing their offensive talent. These Steelers are led by an elite offense.

The key offensive players for this Pittsburgh offense are Ben Roethlisberger, DeAngelo Williams, Antonio Brown, Martavius Bryant, and Heath Miller. The Steelers lost one of the best running backs in the NFL when Le’veon Bell tore his MCL on Sunday against the Bengals. This could have a big impact on the game as Bell is an elite playmaker and a top receiving option for the prolific Pittsburgh offense. Nonetheless the Steelers have a solid backup running back in DeAngelo Williams. Williams has revived his career in Pittsburgh. While Williams was unimpressive in Carolina last season this season he has been a revelation.

Up until this point he had played, so well that the Steelers had planned on giving Williams some of Bell’s touches. Make no mistake the Steelers lost a star when Bell went down, but I suspect they will not shy away from running the rock against the Raiders with Williams as their starter. Williams is currently averaging an impressive 4.9 yards per carry. Big Ben is an elite quarterback that excels at extending plays and thrives on chaos, so the Raiders’ defense will have to finish him.

As for the playmakers Antonio Brown, Martavius Bryant, and Heath Miller are the names to watch. Antonio Brown is an elite receiver and will challenge the Raiders’ secondary all game. Brown can turn any catch into a big play as he is remarkably quick. Brown can run any route in the playbook, and has excellent chemistry with Ben. The Steelers will likely rely on Brown heavily with Bell out of the picture.

Martavius Bryant is the Steelers deep threat, but he is far from a one trick pony. Bryant is a matchup nightmare at 6’4 with rare speed, look for the Steelers to exploit this mismatch throughout the game.  Bryant excels in the end zone as he has 3 touchdowns in 3 games and is averaging an astounding 17.8 yards per catch. Heath Miller is often overlooked but the Raiders cannot afford to let the talented tight end go uncovered as he is averaging 10 yards per catch and often serves as a security blanket for Roethlisberger. The Steelers are averaging 21 points per game, but that number is down from last year’s 26.6 points per game average and this offense has the weapons to make the numbers rise.

Defensively the Steelers stars are defensive end Cameron Heyward, and linebacker Ryan Shazier. Heyward is one of the special players in the league, the son of Iron Head Craig Hayward. Cameron plays with the same fiery intensity that his dad played with. Hayward has a great first step and is a true technician. Hayward recognizes that often times the battle is decided by leverage and he uses it to his advantage consistently. But that is not the only faucet of Heyward’s game that is noteworthy, Heyward has elite power and uses it in combination with his sound hand usage to bully opponents.  He truly embodies the Steelers tough attitude. Shazier is an elite talent at the linebacker position. Had he been able to stay healthy last season he could have very well been in contention for the defensive rookie of the year award.

Shazier plays instinctively and uses his elite athleticism well. He flashes consistently on tape. He is really a player whose versatility shines. Shazier like our own star Khalil Mack excels as a pass rusher while he still has a ways to go with technique his elite speed and burst allow him to make some unreal plays. But Shazier like Mack is not limited to just rushing the passer, he is a sure tackler and can hold his own in coverage making him a player that is  truly a pleasure to watch.

Offensively the Raiders answered many of the questions I had last game. Carr displayed a gunslinger mentality as he shredded the Jets. Carr scorched an elite secondary for 4 touchdowns. Running back Latavius Murray was no slouch as he stunned many as he ran for 113 yards shattering the expectations of even his staunchest supporters. Consistency is the key from here on out as the Raiders have already proved that the sky is the limit for this talented team. The Raiders are establishing themselves as an elite offense and for many of our key players this is just the beginning. It is shocking to consider that as good as Carr, Cooper, Murray and Walford have been they still have not reached their ceilings.

Defensively the Raiders’ trio of talented pass rushers in Khalil Mack, Aldon Smith and Mario Edwards will need to have a huge day.  As pressuring Roethlisberger is simply not enough. This is a quarterback who can step up big in crunch time, so the Raiders will need to hit him all game long. The Raiders will need to bully the Steeler’s quarterback as he is still recovering from an MCL injury. The Steelers have some elite targets, so pressuring the quarterback will be a necessity in this game. Much like stopping the run set up the win last week this week the amount of quarterback pressure the Raiders generate will be key to setting up a win.

The Raiders are shattering expectations and I have no doubt that they can stun the Steelers on Sunday. Offensively we have the talent to go toe to toe with the Steelers’ elite offense. But defensively we will need to harass Ben Roethlisberger all game long. This will likely be the toughest challenge the Raiders’ defense will face all season as the Steelers have a potent offense an elite quarterback and a solid running back. But after last week’s win I am full of hope and it seems like Sunday cannot come fast enough.

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