Oakland Raiders v Pittsburgh Steelers - Key Matchups
David Wilson – Sep 19, 2012
The Raiders host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday in a game they need to win to avoid a disastrous 0-3 start. It won’t be easy, as Oakland have a number of injuries at key positions.
As ever, several individual matchups will help dictate the outcome of the game, so here are the important ones for week three.
Raiders Offense v Steelers Defense
C Stefan Wisniewski v NT Casey Hampton – At 35 years old now Hampton may be past his peak, and he may not offer much in the way of pass rush, but he is still the key player in the Steelers run defense. Last week Oakland’s running game was derailed when the interior offensive line was physically dominated by the Dolphins. That cannot be allowed to happen again if there is to be any success in the running game, success which the Raiders offense desperately needs. The player tasked with containing Hampton is young Wiz. He is still adapting to the new zone blocking system, and has missed much of the off season and training camp due to injury. He is the youngest, and by far the best player on the interior line, so he has to be the player to step up here. When the center wins the battle with the nose tackle, the running game will find room to work.
RT Willie Smith v LOLB Lamar Woodley - As Khalif Barnes is expected to miss time with a groin injury, the recently acquired Willie Smith will most probably start at right tackle for the Raiders due to his familiarity with the zone blocking scheme. The fact that Joe Barksdale has not beaten out Smith for the job does not bode well for his future with the club. Whilst Smith is a functional run blocker, his pass blocking skills are less than ideal to say the least, and he consistently gives up pressure. That isn’t what you want at right tackle when facing the Steelers linebacker Lamar Woodley. Woodley is a quality player who put up 10.0 sacks for the Steelers last year, and averaged 11.0 sacks a year over the past four seasons. Smith’s ability to handle him will have a great impact on how often Carson Palmer stays upright, and thus on the outcome of the game. This matchup is heavily weighted in favour of Woodley and the Steelers…
Steelers Offense v Raiders Defense
RG Ramone Foster v DT Tommy Kelly – Right now Tommy Kelly is the probably the best pass rusher on the Raiders defensive line, and he will play over Steelers right guard Ramone Foster. Last time these two met in week eleven of the 2010 season, Kelly came out the clear winner. He made four tackles on the day, and terrorised Foster as a pass rusher. The Raiders need to win the battle up front, and this matchup is their best chance of doing it. The front seven simply have to put some pressure on Ben Roethlisberger to take the heat of a banged up secondary .Kelly has said that the Raiders will play better, and here is his chance to show he can live up to that statement by repeating his 2010 performance.
WR Mike Wallace v CB Joselio Hanson – Right now the Raiders don’t have either of their starting cornerbacks available, and appear to be in deep trouble at the position. Hanson is in position on the depth chart to cover Wallace, but it really doesn’t matter who it is, they will be the Raiders third choice cornerback (at best). Wallace is one of the best deep threat receivers in the league, and like the Woodley/Smith matchup, this one appears to be a very one sided affair. It is very much down to defensive coordinator Jason Tarver to provide safety help for the corners on Sunday, because I have no doubt that they are going to need it.
If the Raiders are going to struggle to cover Mike Wallace for the Steelers, they are going to have almost equal trouble covering their other wide out Antonio Brown. Both were 1000 yard receivers from last year, and represent a matchup nightmare for an Oakland defensive unit already reeling from injury. The only consolation to this is that both Raider safeties, Michael Huff and Tyvon Branch, have good ability to cover receivers due their college experience as cornerbacks.
If they need a nickel back, they might just have to pull someone off the street.
Looking forward, Peyton Manning is next week’s opponent.
Even worse than that, Willie Smith has to cope with Broncos linebacker Von Miller, one of the best players in the league.
It often seems that just when the experts right the Raiders off and say they can’t win, then that is exactly what they do. I will hope for such a result on Sunday, but I won’t be putting money on it.
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