Why Pittsburgh Steelers Will Have Their Hands Full with Underrated Raiders Squad

Mike BatistaContributor IOctober 25, 2013

Darren McFadden ran for a 64-yard touchdown in the Raiders' win over the Steelers last year at Oakland.
Darren McFadden ran for a 64-yard touchdown in the Raiders' win over the Steelers last year at Oakland.

Saying that the Pittsburgh Steelers shouldn't take the Oakland Raiders lightly Sunday would be parroting one of the most tired sports cliches.

In this case, there's some truth to it. That's because, if the Raiders beat the Steelers in their Week 8 matchup at Oakland (4:05 p.m., CBS), it won't be an upset.

It sure was an upset last year, when the Raiders won, 34-31, on a last-second field goal at Oakland in Week 3. It was one of just four wins for the Raiders in 2012.

Eight members of the 2013 Steelers were on the team in 2006, when they lost, 20-13, at Oakland, to a 2-14 Raiders team.

The Raiders even came to Pittsburgh and stunned the Steelers in 2009, one of just five victories for the Raiders that year.

Steelers History of Upset Losses to Raiders
YearHome/AwayScoreRaiders Record
2006At Oakland20-132-14
2009At Pittsburgh27-245-11
2012At Oakland34-314-12
Pro Football Reference

The common theme in all three of those seasons is that the Steelers missed the playoffs but would have made it with one more win. The Steelers lost to inferior opponents in each of those seasons, but the Raiders are the only non-division team that beat them in 2006, 2009 and 2012.

This year, the Raiders are not an inferior opponent.

It would be hard to label this an "upset," no matter who wins, because both teams are 2-4, and those identical records don't fully demonstrate how closely matched these teams are.

Both teams have allowed 132 points this season. The Steelers have scored 107 points. The Raiders have scored 105.

If that's not enough to convince the Steelers how seriously they should take the Raiders, how about the fact that two of the Raiders' losses were at Denver and at Kansas City. Those two teams are a combined 13-1.

The Steelers will encounter the Black Hole Sunday.
The Steelers will encounter the Black Hole Sunday./Getty Images

The Raiders are coming off a bye, so the Steelers must pay back a scheduling advantage they enjoyed when they beat the New York Jets in Week 6.

While the Steelers came off a bye, the Jets played the previous Monday night on the road. This time, the Steelers face a rested Raiders team after traveling to the West Coast, where they haven't won since 2005.

The Steelers defense will need to be as fresh as possible to stop quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who leads the Raiders with 285 rushing yards on 44 carries (6.5 yards per carry).

Darren McFadden, who burned the Steelers for a 64-yard touchdown run last year, is second on the team with 267 yards on 69 carries (3.9 yards per carry).

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Pryor could be a threat to a Steelers defense that's getting younger but still shows some age in certain spots. The Steelers have sacked the quarterback just eight times this season, more than only the 1-6 New York Giants. They're also last in the NFL with two takeaways.

As a passer, Pryor has completed 64.5 percent of his throws with five touchdowns and five interceptions. None of those interceptions have come at home.

Defensively, the Raiders have allowed 340 yards per game, 13th in the NFL. They're a respectable ninth in run defense, allowing 99 rushing yards per game.

They might be vulnerable, however, to the pass. Opposing quarterbacks have a 98.6 rating against the Raiders, sixth-highest in the NFL.

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That gives Ben Roethlisberger, with Antonio Brown as his primary target, a chance to win for the first time in Oakland, leaving Tennessee as the only AFC city where he hasn't won.

In last year's game at Oakland, Brown fumbled the ball away in the fourth quarter, helping the Raiders erase a 10-point deficit. It wouldn't be the last time a Brown fumble hurt the Steelers during a disappointing 8-8 season.

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Brown is a different player this year. He's second in the NFL with 47 receptions and grades out as the league's best wide receiver, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

Along with a more mature and less mistake-prone Brown, the Steelers will have Troy Polamalu on the field, which they didn't have last year at Oakland.

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Polamalu has been healthy and invaluable this season. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranks him as the seventh-best safety in the NFL.

At 32, however, Polamalu isn't getting the interceptions he did in his salad days. He's had just three since the beginning of the 2011 season, part of the reason turnovers have been so hard to come by for the Steelers.

The Steelers could use a vintage Polamalu pickoff or forced fumble Sunday, just like they need Brown to keep making his case to be called the best receiver in the NFL.

Several other Steelers will also need to be at the top of their game if they want to defeat a team that, right now, is just as good as they are.


(Statistics from NFL.com, unless otherwise noted)