In a normal week of preparation, the Pittsburgh Steelers look to shut down the opponent’s running game to make them one-dimensional.
McFadden is usually one of the more dangerous running backs in the league, but he has struggled this season with only 21 carries for 54 yards. That is a paltry 2.1 yards per carry.
So far this season, the Steelers run defense hasn’t been particularly stout. They have allowed 92 yards per game, which ranks them 11th in the league.
Last week against the New York Jets, Pittsburgh’s defense allowed the Jets backs to gash them for chunks of yardage at a time early in the game before clamping down late.
They will face a stiff test with McFadden this week. He is one of the most talented running backs in the league and has the ability to break a big play on every carry.
However, McFadden has not been able to get going this year as the Raiders have the 31st ranked rushing offense in the league.
A part of the reason for the decline in the ground game has been the implementation of a zone-blocking scheme under new head coach Dennis Allen and offensive coordinator George Knapp.
Despite the lack of success so far, McFadden believes that the running game will get going soon (via The Willits News).
"Going with the zone scheme is one of those situations where you're going to have to keep hitting it until you get going. It's going to be one yard here or two yards there, but eventually it's going to start popping."
If any team knows the struggles of this blocking scheme, it is the Pittsburgh Steelers.
When the Steelers offensive line ran a zone-blocking scheme, the team went from their traditional power run attack to a more finesse style that did not work.
Pittsburgh’s defense is equipped to defend this type of scheme as well.
Stopping Oakland’s ground game starts up front with the defensive line.
The Steelers will need a big game from Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood to prevent the Raiders linemen from making their initial lateral move.
Keisel is a sound lineman who does a solid job against the run, but Hood remains a bit of an enigma.
Hood is as strong as he has ever been and worked on his explosion out of his stance over the offseason and this is a week where you could see this pay off.
While he has not shown much so far this year, Hood will need to use his power to maintain his gap assignments if the Steelers are going to control the Raiders ground game.
In the center, Casey Hampton has done a good job demanding double-teams but has been pushed off of the ball. This has created big seams for the running backs and it is something that the Steelers will have to watch this week.
If Oakland can get blockers to the second level on the linebackers, they are going to have an outstanding day on the ground.
Neither Lawrence Timmons nor Larry Foote is particularly strong at shedding blocks and this could mean some big runs inside.
Therefore, if Hampton is being handled in the middle, the Steelers will need to integrate the quicker, stronger Steve McLendon.
While McLendon is not a rock in the middle, Hampton is no longer at that point either. What McLendon can bring that Hampton can’t, though, is the ability to penetrate the line and blow plays up in the backfield.
Oakland may decide to run to the outside and if they do you can count on them going away from LaMarr Woodley. Instead, they will run at Chris Carter and Jason Worilds as James Harrison probably won’t play again this week.
Pittsburgh may look to cheat some help over to their side if Oakland can expose this weakness.
Another area of concern for the Steelers will be if Troy Polamalu sits out again. If that is the case, expect Ryan Clark to take on more of a strong safety role and be used inside the box.
Clark was outstanding last week and is a force against the run when given the opportunity to play near the line.
The issue with moving Clark forward is the lack of coverage from Ryan Mundy, who does not have the speed of Polamalu or the instincts of Clark.
Pittsburgh may not even have to focus on the run for long either. If they are able to slow the Raiders ground attack early and hold them to carries of three yards or less more often than not, Oakland may abandon the run.
By making the Raiders one-dimensional, the Steelers odds of coming out with a win greatly increase.
It will all begin with shutting down McFadden and the Raiders ground game.
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