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Steelers vs. Raiders: Pittsburgh Faces Road Test Without Polamalu, Harrison

The sight of Troy Polamalu on the sidelines wearing an earpiece has become a familiar one for the Steelers.
The sight of Troy Polamalu on the sidelines wearing an earpiece has become a familiar one for the Steelers.Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Mike BatistaContributor ISeptember 22, 2012

No Troy Polamalu and no James Harrison again should be no problem for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

If the Steelers have the mettle to be a championship team, that is.

The Steelers will be without the two former NFL defensive players of the year Sunday, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, when they play the Raiders at Oakland in Week 3.

Harrison is recovering from knee surgery he had in August and Polamalu says he strained his calf the week before the season opener in Denver, then aggravated the injury during the game.

The Steelers have a bye in Week 4. They could be taking a cautious approach this week with Harrison and Polamalu so they can have two more weeks to heal while missing just one more game.

In his weekly press conference via Steelers.com, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin denied that the bye week influenced the Steelers' decision.

"It didn't play in it whatsoever," Tomlin said.

Well, if he says so.

What really should have factored into the Steelers' decision was the opponent before the bye week.

If the Steelers (1-1) can't beat the Raiders (0-2) without Polamalu and Harrison, they have a long way to go before they can consider themselves a Super Bowl-caliber team, and that's the measuring stick the Steelers are held to as long as Ben Roethlisberger is calling the signals.

The Raiders are one of only two teams (the Tennessee Titans are the other) with fewer rushing yards per game than the Steelers, according to NFL.com.

On the other side of the coin, the Steelers' dormant running game could see daylight against the Raiders, who are allowing 147.5 rushing yards per game, 29th in the NFL.

Or the Steelers could attack the Raiders through the air. Both of Oakland's starting cornerbacks are likely out for Sunday's game, according to the Contra Costa Times.

Think this would be a good week for the no-huddle?

While there are so many ways the Steelers can beat the Raiders on Sunday, let's not forget that the Raiders have impishly haunted the Steelers during their Super Bowl-hangover seasons.

In 2006, the Raiders intercepted Roethlisberger four times and returned two for touchdowns in a 20-13 win at Oakland, one of just two Raider wins that year.

In 2009, the 5-11 Raiders dealt the Steelers their fourth of five straight defeats, coming back to beat them 27-24 at Heinz Field.

Both of those Raider victories helped keep the Steelers out of the playoffs.

The 2009 loss to Oakland was one of 11 games Polamalu sat out that season because of knee injuries.

The Steelers' 27-10 victory over the Jets in Week 2 improved their record to 7-7 in games Polamalu has missed since 2009. However, the Steelers are just 2-5 on the road without Polamalu during that stretch.

On Sunday, they'll be without Polamalu on the road for the first time since beating the Miami Dolphins in the 2009 season finale.

It will be the Steelers' first road game ever without both Harrison and Polamalu, and if they're going to be an elite team in 2012, they can overcome it.

If not, this could be 2006 and 2009 all over again.

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