Oakland Raiders vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: The Silver and Black Plan of Attack
Tom Cable has named Jason Campbell as the starting quarterback when he takes the Oakland Raiders into Heinz field to take on an old rival—the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The hatred between these teams—and their fans, goes back a long time. Don't expect too many hugs or fist bumps at the midfield coin toss.
Not since the days of Kenny Stabler versus the "Steel Curtain" and Terry Bradshaw versus the "11 angry men" has a Raiders versus Steelers tilt meant so much.
The Raiders are looking to solidify their place atop the AFC West, and the Steelers are trying to keep pace with the red-hot Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North.
There's a lot at stake for both teams—to say the least.
The Steelers and their top ranked rushing defense are favored by seven points, but don't let that fool you. This is a winnable game for the Raiders.
What follows are my keys for the Raiders to pull off a repeat of last season's upset in Pittsburgh.
The Power Run
Darren McFadden has proven to be a great running back, but the very physical run defense of the Steelers poses a serious problem.
The solution? Pound the bigger, more physical Michael Bush more than usual.
Bush is the kind of back that can wear down a defense. Running him with standard power lead plays will tire out the Steeler front seven, then McFadden can use his speed to run right by them for a big gain.
The passing game will benefit from this brutal rushing attack as well.
Eventually, the safeties will cheat up, the linebackers will bite on the play action and the receiving corps will find more room in the secondary and they can burn the Steelers deep.
In short—use Bush as the battering ram, then unleash McFadden on the edge of a tired and bruised defense.
Max Protect Pass Plays
It's not a secret that the Raiders struggle in pass protection. It's also not a secret the Steelers have a solid pass rush.
These facts could decide the game.
Last week, Tom Brady and the Patriots torched the Steelers' secondary for 350 yards and three touchdowns. They did this by keeping six and seven men in to block. Danny Woodhead and Rob Gronkowski spent a lot of time blocking for Brady.
The Raiders need to employ a similar strategy.
Keeping Brandon Myers, Michael Bush and Marcel Reece in the back field to block will provide Jason Campbell the time he needs to find open receivers in that weak Steelers' secondary.
Having Louis Murphy back along with an emerging Jacoby Ford will give Bryant McFadden, Ike Taylor, Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu a lot to contend with.
Use Play Action, But Not Necessarily to Go Deep
The Steelers are very aggressive against the run. The Raiders can take advantage of that.
Block and release routes by Myers and Reece, coupled with quick hitch-and-goes by the wide receivers can break wide open if the play fake is executed properly.
The Steelers' aggression can also be exploited by faking a counter play to Bush or McFadden to one side, then leaking Reece and a lineman or two out to the opposite side for a screen.
Of course, Oakland will have to test the Steelers deep to keep Polamalu and Clark on their heels. However, every play action pass doesn't have to be a 30 yard route.
If this works, the Raider receivers could have big days—especially Myers.
Use Double Moves To Get The Ball Deep
If the Steelers defense has a weakness, it's in the passing game.
They have a good pass rush, but if that rush doesn't get to the quarterback, the Steeler cornerbacks are suspect.
Utilizing the speed of Jacoby Ford, Louis Murphy and Johnnie Lee Higgins with double moves will beat the Pittsburgh defensive backs at least a few times.
It's not going to work every time, but when it does (not if, but when) the payoff will be huge.
As long as there is some semblance of a running game, the pocket affords Campbell some time and Campbell can throw an accurate, catchable ball, the Raiders can do just what the Patriots did last week—get big plays and score points.
Contain Ben Roethlisberger
Ben Roethlisberger does his best work when the play breaks down and he's forced to make a play on the run, (and at college frat parties.)
To combat this, the Raiders' pass rushers need to show some patience.
Lamarr Houston, Matt Shaughnessy and Trevor Scott have to watch their depth off the edge. If they allow the offensive tackle to push them beyond Roethlisberger's drop, it will open up lanes for the big quarterback to escape through.
The defensive ends aren't the only players that have a role in containing Roethlisberger.
Richard Seymour, Tommy Kelly and the rest of the interior defensive linemen have to get a strong push in the middle of the line.This will provide the defensive ends a little room for mistakes and make up for getting too deep on the edges.
Finally, you're not going to tackle "Big Ben" by grabbing his jersey and pulling him down like you can Drew Brees or Matt Hasselbeck.
You have to hit this guy, wrap him up and get his feet off the ground. If not, he'll make you look silly.
Play Hines Ward Physically
Hines Ward is known for his physical playing style. Some even call him "dirty." I seriously doubt his recent concussion is going to curb his all-out playing style.
Therefore, the Raider defensive backs have to return favor by playing just as intense and physical. Harass him, jam him and keep him off balance all day.
Unfortunately, Raider star cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha is still not participating in practice and listed as questionable. This leaves Stanford Routt, Jeremy Ware or Chris Johnson to cover Ward.
This doesn't instill confidence.
Asomugha is the only cornerback the Raiders have that possesses the skill, technique and physical nature to do to Ward what I'm suggesting.
Perhaps we'll see Michael Huff at cornerback and Mike Mitchell at safety. I have a feeling Raider Nation won't mind that too much.
Don't Let Mike Wallace Get Deep
The Steelers like to throw the deep ball—especially to Mike Wallace.
Wallace has emerged as a legitimate deep threat in the league and containing him will not be easy.
The Raider defensive backs can't allow him to run free. In man-to-man coverage, Wallace needs to get jammed at the line to disrupt his timing with Roethlisberger.
When playing a zone, the defenders have to stand their ground and force Wallace to adjust to their position, rather than allowing him to look for the soft spots in the zone unchecked.
Don't Be Fooled By Gaget Plays
Mike Tomlin and the Steelers love "trickeration."
Wide receiver passes, double reverses and flea flickers are a part of the Steeler game plan. They are very successful with them, and the Raiders must be ready for it.
The defensive ends have to stay at home on reverses, the linebackers must stay true to their zone responsibility and not bite on end around action and the cornerbacks have to stay with their man.
Once Randel El gets the ball and attempts to throw, there can't be any breakdowns in coverage and the pass rush will need to adjust.
The most important thing is—don't be surprised when they break out something crazy.
Arm Tackles Will Not Work—On Any Steeler.
Okay, Mewelde Moore isn't going to run anyone over, but Rashard Mendenhall will.
Hines Ward is a receiver that can break tackles. Heath Miller runs hard and can burst right through arm tackles as well.
This seems like a silly thing to mention when speaking of professional football players, but the Raiders' fundamentals have to be solid.
Otherwise, the Steelers will gain a lot of yards after contact.
Keep The Special Teams Solid
Emmanuel Sanders can flip the field position for his team. John Fassel has to drill into his return coverage crew to stay in their lanes and make solid tackles.
On the flip side of that, another great return day from Jacoby Ford will do wonders for the Raiders chances—not to mention their morale.
Shane Lechler just needs to be Shane Lechler. Punting the ball like he always does will be great.
Sebastian Janikowski has shown some inconsistency lately. This must be fixed because frankly, this game is likely to come down to a field goal.
This is a difficult, but winnable game for the Raiders.
It seems to me that it will come down to mistakes, penalties and special teams. Hopefully, the Raiders will as prepared as they were against Denver and Seattle.
Another slow start like the one against Kansas City will likely result in a loss against this Pittsburgh team.
What do you think? What else is going to be critical for Oakland? Who do you think is going to be the most important player? Let me hear you in the comments.