While the Raiders offense rolled over two opponents after their bye week, the Steelers offense looked anything but dynamic in Ben Roethlisberger’s return under center in Week 8.
Will Roethlisberger lay two eggs on his home turf in back-to-back weeks? The Raiders shouldn’t count on it, unless they’re causing the turnovers and miscues with an effective defensive game plan.
Pressure Up the Middle
The objective to generate a pass rush usually finds its way into every defensive scheme week to week. For the Raiders, it’s important to apply the pass rush in a specific area.
Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. should place the crosshairs on Steelers center Cody Wallace as the target for the pass rush. According to Pro Football Focus, Wallace grades minus-23.1 overall, allowing three quarterback sacks and 13 quarterback hurries this season.
In Week 8, the Cincinnati Bengals effectively utilized a four-man rush and brought pressure through the middle to accumulate sacks and force poor throws.
The Bengals find an opening on the inside and force Roethlisberger into a poor throw from deep in the pocket.
In the second example, a defender puts an arm up with another defensive lineman bearing down on the Steelers quarterback.
The Bengals successfully flush Roethlisberger out of the pocket toward one side of the field, which limits his receiving options. He throws another interception near the sideline.
In a 4-2-5 alignment, the Raiders field a talented front four capable of generating pressure similar to the Bengals in Week 8.
Oakland must force Roethlisberger to keep his feet moving or grab hold of him in the pocket using the big bodies up front. In the best-case scenario, the Steelers signal-caller would toss ill-advised passes toward awaiting safety Charles Woodson or take a couple of sacks as an alternative.
Receiving Running Backs
What’s less obvious than targeting rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper early and often to jumpstart the offense?
When dissecting the Steelers defense, running backs lining up as wide receivers or catching out of the backfield pose a problem for the inside linebackers.
Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons has struggled in coverage, leading to high traffic running across midfield and toward the flat.
In Week 5, the San Diego Chargers running backs feasted on the Steelers' intermediate pass coverage. Danny Woodhead and Melvin Gordon combined for 12 receptions and 118 yards.
In the first example, Woodhead split out as a wide receiver. Immediately after the snap, he flexes out to the flat for a quick reception. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers throws a quick pass parallel to the line of scrimmage.
Woodhead picks up two solid blocks out in front with Timmons off to his left.
Timmons isn’t quick enough to stop the running back at the point of reception and takes a poor angle on the stop. Woodhead runs through the one-arm tackle for a 31-yard gain.
In Week 8, the Raiders executed a similar play with running back Taiwan Jones catching out of the backfield:
The Steelers rank No. 6 in sacks, which means quarterback Derek Carr may see an aggressive pass rush on Sunday. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave could opt to leak a running back into the passing lanes as an emergency receiver to escape sacks.
Foles identifies the oncoming blitz and finds running back Tre Mason, who was open for a 15-yard dash downfield.
The Raiders have a variety of receiving weapons in the backfield, from a speedy running back in Jones to a bulkier H-back in Marcel Reece, who's capable of breaking a few tackles.
Either way, the decision to use the running back as an extra receiver keeps the defense guessing and adds another receiving threat on the field against the No. 26 pass defense in the league.
Based on this game plan, the Raiders pass rush stands as the big question mark. Oakland’s ability to accumulate sacks has yet to live up to its full potential.
In Week 9 against the Steelers, the Raiders need a few sacks to disrupt Roethlisberger’s rhythm. It’s almost impossible to allow the Steelers signal-caller ample time to throw and attempt to cover all of his weapons.
Steelers tight end Heath Miller recorded 10 receptions for 105 yards against the Bengals in his previous outing.
Safety Larry Asante played a major role within the secondary against the New York Jets spread formation in Week 8. According to ESPN’s Bill Williamson, Asante practiced with limitations due to a knee injury:
Fortunately, Asante participated in full in Friday's practice.
Without linebacker Neiron Ball, the Raiders will need Asante at his best when considering all the talented offensive skill players within the Steelers offense. Wide receivers Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant project as the obvious threats, but a highly productive outing from Miller would sink the Raiders' chances of a victory.
Oakland played in a pair of close games when it traveled east against the Cleveland Browns and Chicago Bears. Now, Oakland battles a playoff contender on the eastern time zone, which should reveal how far it has progressed as a road team. Expect a competitive game, but the Steelers avoid consecutive losses on their home field.
Steelers 34, Raiders 30
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