Coming off their Week 5 bye with an 0-4 record, the Steelers have stepped up their game, winning their last two and pulling closer in a tight AFC North.
This week, Pittsburgh travels to Oakland to face the Raiders.
Despite Oakland's recent struggles, this is a team the Steelers have found a little tough to beat over the last few seasons. In fact, since Ben Roethlisberger became the full-time starter in Week 2 of the 2004 season, the Steelers are a paltry 1-3 vs. the silver-and-black.
With four losses already this season, Pittsburgh needs every win they can get, including this contest against the rival Raiders. Let's take a look at three X-factors who can help the Steelers win on Sunday.
1. Lawrence Timmons, ILB
Inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons is generally an X-factor for the Steelers every week, but Sunday afternoon's game is a little different. Timmons may have a more daunting task than any other player on the Pittsburgh defense:
Containing Terrelle Pryor.
Flashback to 2012, when the Steelers held Washington's RGIII to just 177 pass yards and eight rushing. Pittsburgh could employ a similar game plan this week. That would most likely include Timmons in a spy role on Pryor.
Pryor is currently averaging 212.2 pass yards per game and 57 per game on the ground, making him one of the biggest dual-threat QBs in the league right now. And it could very well be up to Timmons, who will be playing with a broken hand, to shut him down.
If Pryor can get lose on this defense, it could be a very long trip for Pittsburgh. It should be relying on its best defensive player to have a big game.
2. Offensive Line Stability
It's no secret that, when the Steelers run the ball well, they tend to win games. Last week against the Ravens, Pittsburgh ran for a season-high 141 yards and won a huge divisional matchup.
They'll be looking for similar production against the Raiders.
But for that to happen, the Steelers need to become more stable across their offensive line. One of the biggest reasons the run game has been down the last season—as well as this season so far—is the constant flux up front. The Steelers played three different right tackles last week vs. Baltimore.
If the Steelers can get some cohesiveness going among their offensive line, it could do wonders for a run game that appears to be on the up-swing. Their lineman, with the exception of Marcus Gilbert, are primarily run blockers, but there hasn't been enough consistency for the team to gain a good rapport.
Look for Pittsburgh to stick with its starting five as much as it can on Sunday afternoon. Barring injury (which has shown to be pretty likely), it should be able to get that done.
3. Heath Miller, TE
Although the Steelers offense has been gaining steam over the last four weeks, there has still been one problem that's reared its ugly head.
Pittsburgh can't find the end zone.
Who is the biggest x-factor for the Steelers vs. the Raiders?
In the two wins this season, Pittsburgh has scored 19 points in each game. Of those 38 total points, Ben Roethlisberger has accounted for two touchdown passes while Shaun Suisham has kicked eight field goals.
Nothing against Suisham (who has been terrific by the way), but that is unacceptable. The Steelers are currently 31st in the NFL in red-zone offense, finding the end zone on just 37 percent of their trips inside the opponents' 20.
One way to correct that issue is utilizing tight end Heath Miller.
Miller caught his first touchdown of the season last week on a shovel pass, but he needs to be used more inside the 20. He's the Steelers' biggest red-zone target and had a career-high eight TD catches last season.
Todd Haley has done a good job of adjusting the offense this season, and this has to be one item he has his eye on. Expect Miller to be more involved in the pass game this week in a favorable matchup.
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