Oakland Raiders vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: Full Oakland Game Preview

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistNovember 5, 2015

Oakland Raiders vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: Full Oakland Game Preview

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    The Oakland Raiders travel east to play the Pittsburgh Steelers in another contest with wild-card playoff implications.

    This week’s matchup doesn’t exactly live up to the hype between these two franchises in the 1970s, but they’re evenly matched. Both clubs teeter on the edge of the playoff picture, hoping to gain an early advantage in the wild-card race. 

    Oakland’s crusade in turning doubters into believers continues against a well-coached Steelers team that yielded an even 2-2 record without their starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

    Pittsburgh will push through the season without their starting running back Le’Veon Bell, which potentially renders the offense one-dimensional against the Raiders' second-ranked run defense.

    This contest may turn into a shootout between two high-powered passing attacks scorching each other’s low-tier pass defenses.

    Raiders quarterback Derek Carr comes into this contest with seven touchdown passes and zero interceptions after Oakland’s bye week. Now, he faces the league's 26th-ranked pass defense.

    Location: Heinz Field; Pittsburgh, Pa.

    Date: November, Nov. 8

    Time: 10 a.m. PT / 1 p.m. ET

    TV: CBS

Week 8 Results and Recap

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press
    AFC West Standings
    TeamWinsLosses
    Denver Broncos70
    Oakland Raiders43
    Kansas City Chiefs35
    San Diego Chargers26

    The division-leading Denver Broncos kept rolling with a victory over the Green Bay Packers in a battle between undefeated teams.

    The Kansas City Chiefs showed signs of vitality without running back Jamaal Charles in a 45-10 blowout victory over the Detroit Lions in London.

    The San Diego Chargers dropped into the division cellar with their fourth consecutive loss. The Chargers also lost wide receiver Keenan Allen for the season due to a lacerated kidney, per San Diego Union-Tribune beat writer Michael Gehlken via Twitter.

    The Raiders trounced the New York Jets and hope to extend their win streak to three games against another AFC wild-card hopeful on Sunday.

News and Notes

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    George Gojkovich/Getty Images

    Respect Pittsburgh’s Defense

    The narrative painting the Steelers defense as a watered-down version from years past stands as a half-truth when surveying the numbers. Pittsburgh’s secondary lost staple players Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor in the secondary, but the front seven remains a menacing bunch.

    It’s not all flash and high-flying offense in Steel City, they can still punch you in the mouth.

    The Steelers rank fifth in sacks, recording 22 in eight games. Rookie linebacker Bud Dupree became a key component to the pass rush with four sacks right out of the gate. The Raiders offensive line faces another tough challenge in neutralizing pressure on Carr. Pittsburgh also boasts a top-10 rush defense.

    No Worries for Big Ben 

    The smart guys in suits who analyze football aren’t concerned with Roethlisberger’s poor performance against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 8, per Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Triblive.com writer Mark Kaboly:

    Warner, who said Roethlisberger has “played as well as any quarterback in the league” over the past two years, expects to see a different Roethlisberger this week against the upstart Raiders.

    “Oftentimes, that first game's not what you want it to be, but it gets you ready for the next game, second game back,” Warner said. “But I have no concerns overall with Ben. I think he's going to be fine.”

    Kaboly also notes Roethlisberger’s history of coming out flat when returning from injury:

    “It's not like Roethlisberger hasn't struggled before in his first game back after an injury. He lost for the seventh time in eight such tries Sunday,” said Kaboly.

    Another sloppy performance may seem unlikely, but the Raiders field an improved defense when comparing Week 1 to Week 9.

    Nonetheless, Jets backup quarterback Geno Smith missed seven weeks of action and found some rhythm against the Raiders secondary. Smith went 27-of-42 for 265 yards with two touchdowns and a 64 percent pass-completion rate. 

    The task in containing Roethlisberger and his variety of weapons will challenge defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. from start to finish.

    Carr Vouches for Crabtree’s Stay

    When NFL analysts rattle off the names of top-tier wide receivers, Michael Crabtree’s name isn’t mentioned. The Raiders signal-caller values the seventh-year receiver more than most.

    Last week, general manager Reggie McKenzie spoke about welcoming edge-rusher Aldon Smith into the family, alluding to the inclination to extend Smith beyond this season, per CSNBayArea.com reporter Scott Bair. This week, Carr vouched for Crabtree’s extension with the Silver and Black.

    “I would love for Crab to be here for a long time,” Carr told local reporters

    Carr’s message comes off simple and straight to the point. With all the attention on Cooper, Crabtree’s numbers often sneak past the wandering eye. Thus far, he’s recorded 40 receptions for 483 yards and three touchdowns. He notched two 100-yard games and resembles option 1A instead of option No. 2 at wide receiver.

Latest Injury News

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
    Oakland Raiders Injury Report   
    PlayerPositionInjuryPractice
    Taylor MaysSAnkleFP
    T.J. CarrieDBShoulder/HipLP
    Khalil MackDEHamstringDNP
    Neiron BallLBKneeDNP
    Charles WoodsonSShoulder/KneeDNP

    *DNP = Did not practice

    *LP = Limited participation in practice

    *FP = Full participation in practice

    Oakland Raiders injury report courtesy of Raiders.com.

    Khalil Mack

    No need to sound off any alarms here. Defensive end Khalil Mack sat out of practice to recover a bit from his bumps and bruises, per CSNBayArea.com reporter Fallon Smith via Twitter.

    Taylor Mays

    Despite an ankle injury, safety Taylor Mays participated in full during practice.

    T.J. Carrie

    Defensive back T.J. Carrie took awhile to pull himself off the ground after multiple plays against the New York Jets in Week 8. He’s now dealing with a hip issue along with the nagging shoulder injury. He practiced with limitations.

    Neiron Ball

    Linebacker Neiron Ball will likely miss consecutive games with a knee injury.

    Charles Woodson

    New week, same routine for safety Charles Woodson. He’ll skip practices and play on Sunday.

Key Matchups

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    George Gojkovich/Getty Images

    Heath Miller vs. Raiders' Intermediate Pass Coverage 

    The tight end issue may arise as a problem without rookie linebacker Neiron Ball in action. The Jets starting tight end, Jeff Cumberland, caught three passes for 26 yards prior to the Week 8 matchup against the Raiders. 

    Steelers tight end Heath Miller presents a real test for the Raiders, ranking second on the team in receptions (27) and receiving yards (273) in eight games.

    The Steelers' frequent use of the tight end as a receiving option will challenge either safety Larry Asante or inside linebacker Curtis Lofton in short coverage.

    Michael Crabtree vs. Antwon Blake

    Most eyes will follow star wideouts Amari Cooper and Antonio Brown in their matchups. For the Raiders, it’s important to exploit Steelers cornerback Antwon Blake who gives up yards like candy on Halloween night.

    According to Pro Football Focus, Blake surrenders the second-most yards (568) among starting cornerbacks. Similar to the previous week, Crabtree’s numbers may jump off the box score in another spectacular performance against a mediocre defender. 

    Crabtree has accumulated 50-plus receiving yards in the last four games and recorded a touchdown in the previous two outings.

X-Factor: Marcel Reece

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Marcel Reece/Taiwan Jones

    Quietly, Marcel Reece has put together a solid season through seven games. He’s starting to provide consistent production as a receiving option, catching at least three passes in the last three contests.

    Steelers inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons experienced some ups and downs in his career with an overall solid resume.

    However, he’s ranked one slot above Lofton in pass coverage, per Pro Football Focus. Carr should light up the defense with screen passes and short throws to running backs out of the backfield.

    Timmons leads the league in missed tackles among inside linebackers. Pittsburgh also allows an average 44 receiving yards per game to running backs, per Football Outsiders.

    The Raiders should exploit their advantage in catch-and-run situations, which calls for another Taiwan Jones highlight.

Prediction: Steelers 34, Raiders 30

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    The Steelers have become a pass-heavy offense even with Bell in the lineup. In 2014, Pittsburgh ranked second in passing yards. Now without Bell, expect frequent vertical throws to wide receivers Martavis Bryant and Brown.

    The Steelers offense features four capable wideouts and a solid receiving tight end who will likely excel in spreading the Raiders defense thin across the field. All of the Raiders cornerbacks should have their hands full with competitive matchups. 

    Oakland traveled east and battled in close games against two subpar offenses. There’s clearly an upgrade in offensive talent for this trip to Pittsburgh. Oakland must win a shootout to come out victorious. Unfortunately, the Steelers have slightly more ammunition and a little more resistance against the passing attack. 

    Steelers 34, Raiders 30

    Follow Maurice Moton on Twitter for news, updates and intriguing discussion about the Oakland Raiders.

    All statistics are provided by Pro-Football-Reference.comPro Football Focus and Team Rankings unless otherwise noted.

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