3TFO: Steelers @ Raiders, Week 8
After a rough 0-4 start, the Pittsburgh Steelers have rallied to win back-to-back games. With Le’Veon Bell healthy and having solidified himself as the top back, the Steelers look to improve on their lack of success on the ground. The defense has played well as of late, holding opponents to only 11 points per game the last two weeks.
Meanwhile, the Oakland Raiders have a losing record through six games for the tenth time in the last eleven seasons. Terrelle Pryor has been one of the few bright spots on offense while Darren McFadden continues to be underwhelming. The new additions on defense have yet to mesh together well, but have shown improvements over last year.
With both teams sitting at 2-4, another loss would spell trouble for either’s playoff chances. That said, a Pittsburgh win coupled with a Browns loss to the undefeated Chiefs would put the Steelers in a tie for second place within their division. Even though the Raiders’ next five games are against opponents with losing records, their outlook is grim, stuck in the AFC West behind Kansas City and Denver, who are a combined 13-1. Let’s look at a few matchups that could determine who makes it to 3-4.
Raiders’ Pass Blocking versus Woodley, Jones and Worilds
The Raiders’ offensive line has been the definition of a revolving door this season. Due to injuries at nearly every position, eight different players have already started a game. That is not including the two expected starters who landed on injured reserve before the season started. Left guard Lucas Nix has been the weak link on the line, with the third-lowest grade for a guard even though he has played only four games. The main focus will be on the play of their tackles though. Left tackle Khalif Barnes has mostly played well, yet very poorly at times. He has allowed at least four pressures in four games, including ten pressures against the Chiefs last week. The performance on the other end of the offensive line have been a pleasant surprise for Oakland. It is still unclear whether waiver-acquisition Tony Pashos will be able to play, or if Matt McCants will get his third start of the season. Pashos played well through the first three weeks, allowing just one hurry on 108 dropbacks. His play has slightly declined while dealing with injuries, but his 96.4 Pass Blocking Efficiency is still tied for sixth among tackles. McCants has filled in well in Pashos’s absence, allowing no sacks or hits and just two hurries in two games.
Regardless of who gets the nod at right tackle, they will have their hands full having to block LaMarr Woodley. He has rushed only 64% of his snaps, but has been one of the most effective when doing so. Woodley’s 15.0 Pass Rushing Productivity is third-best among 3-4 outside linebackers. Former second-round pick Jason Worilds and rookie first-rounder Jarvis Jones have struggled to fill the void left by James Harrison’s departure. The pair has combined for one sack, three hits, and nine hurries over six games. Dick LeBeau is one of the most creative coordinators when pass rushing, so expect the Steelers to utilize others as well.
Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown versus Raiders’ Cornerbacks
With the Steelers’ unproductive run game, it is no surprise that the team’s success is directly correlated with Ben Roethlisberger’s performance. In four losses, Roethlisberger has completed 63.6% of his passes, turned the ball over eight times (five interceptions and three lost fumbles), and earned a +0.1 cumulative overall grade. In two wins, he has completed 75.5% of passes, has not committed a turnover, and has a +5.8 grade. Although losing Mike Wallace has been tough on the Steelers’ offense, Antonio Brown has quietly put together a great start to the season. Brown has not garnered much attention elsewhere—likely due to the team’s poor start—but he ranks as our top wide receiver this year. Brown’s catch rate of 82.5% is the second-highest for wide receivers and he has dropped only one pass. Just as impressive is his ability to move the chains, getting a first down or touchdown on 30 of his 47 receptions. With the Steelers’ offense scoring just one touchdown in each win, there is still plenty of room for improvement.
Because the Raiders typically do not have their top cornerback follow their opponent’s top receiver, Brown will be up against a few defensive backs throughout the game. Top cornerback Mike Jenkins has graded negatively in all but the Jacksonville game. He is allowing 71.3% of passes thrown in his direction to be completed on the year. Last week, fellow cornerback Tracy Porter did not allow a reception on four targets for his best game of the season. Prior to that, however, Porter allowed an average of five receptions and 58 yards per game. Quarterbacks are completing 59.4% of passes when targeting rookie D.J. Hayden, but those completions have been troublesome. He is tied for the league lead with seven missed tackles in coverage and 13 of his 19 allowed completions have resulted in first downs or scores. Oakland’s revamped secondary has had its ups and downs this season and will need a good performance in order to beat the Steelers.
Terrelle Pryor’s Running Ability
There is no question that Pryor has to develop significantly as a passer, but his ability to make plays with his legs adds a dimension to an offense that lacks playmakers. He comes into the game with the second-highest run grade for quarterback, slightly behind Andrew Luck despite playing two fewer games. Pryor has amassed 137 rushing yards on 16 scrambles in his five starts, yet his running ability is not limited to scrambling. He averages 6.29 yards per carry on designed runs and has been effective as the primary ball carrier as well. What is most impressive is that Pryor is just one of three players with five or more runs of 20-plus yards, despite having only 41 carries on the year.
The Steelers’ defense has played mostly well against the run this season. Still, they have not faced many dual-threat quarterbacks. Through six games the Steelers have allowed just 59 yards on 13 quarterback carries, with 47 yards coming on scrambles. The only dual-threat quarterback they have faced is Geno Smith, who has not run nearly as often or as effectively as Pryor. In Smith’s matchup against Pittsburgh, he had just three carries (all designed runs) for eight yards and did not scramble. Pryor’s running the ball is not a huge aspect of the Raiders’ offense, yet one or two big plays could mean the difference in what is expected to be a close game.
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