The Pittsburgh Steelers will be the favorite when they roll into the Black Hole to take on the Oakland Raiders. However, their favorite status should fool no one. This will be a big road test for the Steelers and a game that they must win if they want to establish some early season momentum.
A win for the Black and Yellow would give them two wins in a row and a 2-1 record in this young season as the Steelers took care of business at home last week in a 27-10 victory against the New York Jets.
The Raiders are coming off a 35-13 loss to the Miami Dolphins on the road and will be looking to break into the win column for the first time this season in Oakland after a disappointing 0-2 start.
After struggling out West in the season opener against the Denver Broncos, Ben Roethlisberger and Co. face a tough task ahead but should be able to pull out the victory. Here are the keys to the game for a Pittsburgh victory.
Figure Out the Running Game
The days of the Steelers being an old-fashioned, physical team that loves to run the ball are over. With offensive coordinator Todd Haley at the helm, the Steelers are now more high-flying and pass-heavy than ever before, but the run game can't be ignored.
The Steelers currently rank 30th in the league in rushing with 70.5 yards per game.
The lack of rushing has been due in part because the offensive line has struggled to make holes but also because the team has missed last season's starting running back, Rashard Mendenhall.
Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman have both had opportunities to claim the job, but neither have looked great as Dwyer has averaged a mere 3.4 yards per carry while Redman has posted a 2.0 average.
Unfortunately for the Steelers, they will be without Mendenhall once again, according to Chris Adamski of CBSSports.com. The team has decided he will sit out again this week while he recovers from an ACL tear sustained last season.
At this point the team would love to get Mendenhall back but this week they must move on without him and they'll need Dwyer or Redman to step up their game in this one.
Keep Big Ben Clean
Without the typically strong running game, defenses have been able to key on rushing Roethlisberger without much fear of reprisal.
If the Steelers are going to put the offense completely in the hands of Roethlisberger, they must improve their protection. The offensive line has been a real point of concerns and the five sacks that they gave up to the Denver pass rush was a big reason for the 31-19 loss.
The offensive line improved against the New York Jets at home, but they still gave up three sacks to Rex Ryan's crew.
Fortunately for the Steelers, the Raiders pass rush hasn't done anything of note this season—they've only registered two sacks in the first two games. The line must give Big Ben time to look downfield and connect with the speedy Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace to set up the short passing game.
Continue to Stop the Run
The defense has been without stars James Harrison and Troy Polamalu recently, but that hasn't stopped the defense from playing well—especially against the run.
The Steelers have limited opponents to 92 rushing yards per game in the first two games of the season and they'll need to continue that trend to ensure a win against Oakland. The Raiders have struggled to get the running game going despite running back Darren McFadden's skills.
The usually explosive McFadden has been limited to 2.1 yards per carry and has only done damage in the passing game where he has 15 receptions for 105 yards thus far.
If the Steelers are able to bottle up McFadden on the ground once again, they can force the Raiders to be one-dimensional. Considering the Raiders are 0-2 without getting a running game going, that should bode well for the Steelers' chances of going 2-1.