Steelers vs. Raiders: Can Carson Palmer Exploit Weakened Pittsburgh D?

Erik CottonCorrespondent ISeptember 22, 2012

The Raiders have struggled mightily to run the ball through the first two weeks.
The Raiders have struggled mightily to run the ball through the first two weeks.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers travel to Oakland this weekend to face the Raiders on the 40th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception.  Troy Polamalu and James Harrison are both out for the Steelers.  Does that mean that Carson Palmer will be able to exploit a banged-up Pittsburgh defense?

Not exactly. 

The only hope the Raiders have to stay in this game is to run the ball effectively.  For a team that's been among the league leaders in doing just that over the last couple years, 2012 hasn't seen the same results.

Oakland is currently 31st in the NFL in rushing yards per game, and dead last in yards per carry.  Darren McFadden has 54 yards on 26 carries with zero touchdowns.

No QB is going to be as successful as he'd like to be when he has that much pressure on his shoulders.  Palmer knows McFadden is their best player on offense.  He's had to have gotten discouraged by his underwhelming performances through the first two weeks.

Even if Oakland can take advantage of the Steelers' injuries on the ground, that's still not a guarantee that Palmer will light it up through the air.

The Raiders wide receiver corps is mediocre at best, and Palmer hasn't exactly looked like the guy who made two straight Pro Bowls as a Cincinnati Bengal.  In 11 starts since joining Oakland midway through last season, he's thrown 15 TDs and 17 INTs.

Combine that with the number the Steelers D did on the Jets last week, and things look bleak for the Raiders on offense. 

The Jets were coming off a 48-point explosion versus Buffalo in Week 1, and they looked to continue that success at Heinz Field.  However, Pittsburgh's defense limited New York to only 219 total yards and went on to an easy, 27-10 victory.

This matchup doesn't favor Oakland no matter how you analyze it or who's missing from the Steelers defense.  If the Raiders can't run the ball, Pittsburgh can tee off on Palmer and keep their safeties back.

If the silver and black can get McFadden going, they're still going to need Palmer to take advantage of his opportunities to keep the Steelers honest.  Otherwise, Pittsburgh will stack the box and force Palmer to beat them.

There's just not enough of an indication from the Raiders offense as a whole to think things are going to drastically change on Sunday.  Look for Palmer to put up some garbage-time stats to make things look more respectable, but expect him to struggle early on when the game is still undecided.

Prediction:  Steelers 34, Raiders 21; Carson Palmer 26-of-45, 245 yards, two TDs and two INTs