The Oakland Raiders upset the Steelers 34-31 thanks to an explosive offense and a defense that yielded yards but also made plays. The victory came unexpectedly, after two bad games to start the season for the Raiders, but was exactly the type of game that was expected headed into the season.
Darren McFadden and Carson Palmer looked like a tandem that can hide the team’s other deficiencies, and Oakland’s offense carried the defense to victory. The Raiders had trouble stopping the pass and keeping the Steelers out of the end zone, but they also forced four fumbles and recovered two of them to give the offense additional chances.
After Oakland’s first drive ended in an interception and the Steelers quickly drove down the field and scored, McFadden’s 64-yard touchdown run in the first quarter could have been the pivotal moment in the game. McFadden finished with 113 yards on 18 carries.
The Raiders had to overcome a scary scene early in the fourth quarter when a helmet-to-helmet hit on wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey left him motionless on the field. Heyward-Bey gave the thumbs up as medical personnel took him off the field on a stretcher with his head and neck immobilized. Heyward-Bey reportedly has a concussion and will be kept at the hospital overnight for observation (via ibabuzz.com). The Raiders would score 13 unanswered points after Heyward-Bey left the game.
Not only did the Raiders get the running game going, but they also used the passing game to convert several key third downs and punch the ball into the end zone.
Overall, the Raiders converted 58 percent of third downs with the biggest conversions coming late in the game. Palmer had three touchdown passes and completed passes to nine different receivers. His lone interception came on the first drive when Denarius Moore slipped on the infield dirt.
The Raiders still have glaring weaknesses, despite a hard-fought victory.
The defense forced turnovers at opportune moments, but Ben Roethlisberger still completed 73 percent of his passes for 384 yards and four touchdowns. The pass defense will continue to be a problem for the Raiders if they don’t drastically improve and get healthy over the next few weeks.
The Raiders face Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on the road in Week 4 before the bye week. It doesn’t get any easier after the bye week, either, as the Raiders host the high-flying passing game of the Atlanta Falcons in Week 6.
Although the defense yielded yards and touchdowns through the air, they also forced four fumbles and got stops at key moments late in the game.
The Raiders would recover two fumbles, with the biggest recovery coming just moments after Heyward-Bey was taken from the field and Moore caught a touchdown pass to bring the Raiders to within three points. The Raiders would tie the game on a Sebastian Janikowski field goal.
The defense saved its best for last, dialed up the pressure on Roethlisberger and forced an incomplete pass that forced Pittsburgh to punt with 1:43 left on the clock and the score tied. With 1:23 remaining, Palmer hit Brandon Myers over the middle for 15 yards on 3rd-and-10, followed by nine-, eight- and 17-yard completions that set up the game-winning 43-yard field goal by Janikowski as time expired.
The Raiders won in large part to the mental aspect of the game. The Raiders committed just three penalties for 25 yards. The discipline kept offensive drives rolling and didn’t give the Steelers free yards or extra downs.
Facing a 4th-and-2 at the Steelers 6-yard line, the Raiders actually used Pittsburgh’s lack of discipline to pick up a first down. The Raiders shifted several players to the right and baited defensive lineman Ziggy Hood to jump into the neutral zone, which gave them a first down that eventually led to a touchdown pass. The Steelers committed 10 penalties for a total of 81 yards.
Oakland will win more games if the offense continues to generate four or more offensive touchdowns, the defense forces turnovers and the team stays disciplined. Consistently producing in these areas will be the key until the defense gets healthy in the secondary.