Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Oakland Raiders: Three Bold Predictions
I'm going to start with the obvious here - the Steelers have a great defense.
However, they won't be at full strength again, with Troy Polamalu and James Harrison out another week.
What's impressive is that they are still 5th in passing yards allowed and 11th in rushing yards allowed, and while the offense isn't the high-flying fireworks show fantasy owners expected, it's still put points on the board.
Meanwhile, the Raiders are coming off a tough 0-2 start, in which they lost their long snapper, costing them a game against the Chargers, and then got run over by a Dolphins team that looked outright pathetic in Week 1.
However, their defense is actually quite stout - the only Dolphins' score in the first half was on the opening drive, and without the bad karma from the "Holy Roller" game, the defense would have held the Chargers to 13 points.
It's the offense that has issues- Darren McFadden has had trouble gaining yards so far this season, with no room to run, and while they have one of the best receiving corps in the NFL, Carson Palmer has been downright inaccurate.
Palmer won't get away with errant throws this week, and will wind up with three interceptions on the day. I want to say he will throw five picks, but the Steelers' defense is weaker without Polamalu and Harrison, even if it is still impressive.
The biggest reason for last week's loss is the halftime adjustments by Joe Philbin. The man-to-man scheme the Raiders use in their secondary is susceptible to stop routes and out routes, which get a defender moving full speed in one direction, and then forces them to go another, so the Steelers will be attacking the sidelines. Ben Roethlisberger has the arm to make these throws, and should break 300 passing yards this week.
However, it also weakens the run defense, as defensive backs are busy covering their man and don't always see the handoff. The Raiders have a strong enough front seven to handle a power running game, but Reggie Bush and Philbin did exactly what a smart offense does against good linebackers - they used Bush's speed to force the defense to run sideline to sideline, and it paid off with big plays from Bush later in the game.
The Steelers can imitate that by giving the ball to their receivers on end-arounds (another great group of players), but also by running toss plays and off tackle runs with speedy rookie Chris Rainey.
Rainey will be the leading rusher for the Steelers, with four runs of 20+ yards after the Raiders' defense wears down. I'm not saying Rainey is as good as Bush - he certainly doesn't have the moves that Bush uses to get away from tacklers. I just believe he will be a big part of the gameplan, and it will open opportunities for him later in the game.
The Raiders have better offensive weapons, but they aren't a cohesive unit just yet. The Steelers have stability on their side, along with an easily imitated blueprint to beat the Raiders. If you are the gambling type, put your stock in the Steelers to win in Oakland despite the Black Hole. Final Score: 24-13.
The author is a big believer in history repeating itself, especially in the NFL, where everyone steals tricks and schemes from each other - there's a reason that teams within a division tend to have similar identities.
He also believes that if you find him on Facebook (RGDSports@yahoo.com) or Twitter (@RGDSports) and name the team on his hat, he will give you a virtual cookie.