The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders...two teams, when mentioned together, say football more than the word football. We could get into the history here. It is a bountiful one, but right now, I don't care. I am all about this season. That means screw the hyperbole and let's just get into the matchups. I am going to start with one of the most intriguing matchups you will see this NFL season.
Raiders' Rush Offense vs. Steelers' Rush Defense
Some of the stats:
- 1st in Yards Allowed Per Carry at 2.8
- 1st in Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game at 63.2
- 1st in Percentage of Allowed 1st Downs Via the Rush at 19.3
- Only 35.2 percent of their opponents plays are running plays. This is the fewest in the league.
- 2nd in Rushing Yards Per Game at 162.2
- 3rd in Yards Per Carry at 4.9 (5.8 last 3)
- 4th in Percentage of 1st Downs Via Rush at 36.9 (48.4 last 3)
- 3rd with 50.1 percent of their plays being run plays
Something has to give. Last week the Steelers yielded their first 100+ yard rushing game, but this was largely due to the Patriots spreading out the field. Something the Raiders do not do. They prefer to opt for the reverse approach and that is to use the running game to open up the passing game. I can't wait to see how successful the Raiders can be on the ground in this game and how Hue Jackson plans on calling his offense. Will he shy away from the run like most coaches do against the Steelers?
Popular thinking is that you just don't run on the Steelers, but is this really necessary? Due to injuries, most notably DE Aaron Smith, the Steelers defense is not the same as it was to start the year. While they have been putting up great numbers against the run, they haven't faced anything near the Raiders rushing attack.
The last 4 games, Smith was injured 4 games ago, the Steelers have faced the Dolphins, Saints, Bengals and Patriots. These teams are 25,25,21 and 16 in Yards Per Rush respectively. Let's take a look at Yards Per Carry against the Steelers compared to their season numbers
Dolphins: .7 less
Saints: 2.3 less
Bengals: .8 less
Patriots: .2 more
Going even further, if you add up all the runs, those opponents averaged 3 yards per carry against the Steelers and 3.9 on the season. With the Saints drastically lowering that number.
What's my point here? Do I have one? Oh yeah, so you figure the Steelers will lower the Raiders average about .8 yards per carry. Well, that still puts the Raiders at over 4 yards a carry and close to 5 if you use the number from their last 3 games and that is a number you can build a winning game plan around.
Another interesting thing here is the runs to the outside of the offensive left. Since the return of Robert Gallery and the starting of Jared Veldheer, this is an area the Raiders have been explosive. It is also the weakest area of the Steelers rush defense.
On the year, they are ranked 21st on runs to outside the offensive left at 4.4 yards per carry. The Raiders are 3rd in the NFL at 5.2 yards per carry to that same area.
Another way this matchup is great is Darren McFadden. He is so explosive once he gets to that second level. This is an area where the Steelers shut down RBs. The Steelers run defense gets better as you go back, which is the exact opposite of the Raiders. The Steelers DVOA is 4th in runs stuffed, 2nd in the 2nd level and 1st in the open field.
Check out some more of my football geekiness after the jump.Rooney Rules
Steelers' Pass Rush vs. Raiders' O-line
Once again we find pass protection a problem area in a matchup for the Raiders. I will say this, the pass protection has improved. It's been a while (knocking on wood) since we have seen any, "I forgot to block that guy. Please don't kill my QB and I am glad I have unlimited texting," type of sacks. Still, the Raiders are giving up sacks. They are 26th in sacks allowed percentage at 8.6.
Last week, the Steelers didn't blitz Tom Brady as heavily as one is used to seeing from their defense and they ended the game with zero sacks. Tom Brady and that offense are hard to blitz. The Steelers have been bringing the pressure this year. They are 12th with a 6.5 sacks percentage and 3rd with a 8.5 adjusted sack rate. The adjusted sack rate accounts for opponent and situation etc. The bottom line is, this team can still get to the QB and I am sure they will make it a priority against the Raiders.
The Steelers get the majority of their sacks with their linebackers. Most notably, James Harrison with 7 and LaMarr Woodley with 5.5. The Raiders tackles are going to need to be on their game and while Jared Veldheer has been improving he certainly struggled at times with Tamba Hali last game and would've struggled more had he not gotten away with a few holds.
Fumbles and Penalties
The Raiders have the third least fumbles lost this year. That's good, right? Yes, but what is concerning is that they are 31st in fumbles. The Raiders are averaging 2.4 fumbles per game. Some of this is bad snaps and mishandled kicks, which are situations where recovering your own fumble is likely, but they have also been lucky and heads up in recovering fumbles in the middle of crowds. The Raiders need to hold onto the ball. Pittsburgh is 6th in the league at fumbles caused and 3rd in fumbles recovered.
As we are all used to and not surprised, the Raiders have the most penalties and penalty yardage in the league. The Steelers on the other hand, have the 3rd least penalty yards per game. What is interesting about this though, is that flags just fly more in Raiders' games and less in Steelers'.
Raiders' opponents are averaging 79.8 penalty yards per game. This is the highest opponent total in the league. The Steelers' opponents average 48.4 penalty yards per game, which is the 23rd highest total. The Raiders will need this to even out one way or the other.
Art Imitates Al
Raiders' Pass Rush vs. Steelers' O-line
The Steelers' Pass protection has been as bad as the Raiders. They are currently 28th in sack allowed percentage and tied with the Raiders at 28 with an 8.5 adjusted sack rate. The thing here is that the Steelers' O-line is even worse than these numbers. Roethlisberger is good at eluding pass rushers and he has to, and will likely have to, do this often.
The Raiders currently lead the league in sack percentage and adjusted sack rate, both at 9.1. They are also doing it with mostly their defensive lineman. While they have incorporated well-timed and executed blitzes, mostly with their safeties, it is the down lineman that are doing the majority of the damage. The Steelers will likely have RG Chris Kemoeatu back for this game, but still the Raiders will have a decisive advantage on the interior and exterior of the line.
Raiders' 3rd Down Defense vs. Steelers 3rd Down Offense
The Raiders have been amazingly awesome on 3rd Downs during their 3 game winning streak. They are holding opponents to a 14.3 conversion rate in that span. A number that would lead the league by a lot if it were for the season. They aren't too shabby for the whole season either. In fact, they are second in the league at with a 32 percent opponent conversion rate. The Steelers' offense is struggling on 3rd Downs. They are 24th in the league at 35 percent conversion rate.
Chuck Knoll vs John Madden
Steelers' Passing Offense vs. Raiders Passing Defense
Other than the Charger game and the mis-coverages, which seem to happen in the redzone, the Raiders' pass defense has been stingy. They are 2nd in the NFL by allowing only a 53.4 percent completion percentage. They are allowing an 8th best 6.2 Yards Per Pass Attempt. In the three game winning streak QB's have a rating of 62.6 against them. This would be by far the league's leading number.
The Steelers are 3rd in Yards Per Pass Attempt and Pass Completion at 7.5 and 11.9 respectively. Big Ben's peskiness in the pocket can lead to defensive breakdowns and big plays. As always, Hines Ward finds ways to get open. Like the face mask tug on Chris Johnson for what looked to be the game winning TD last year.
How the Raiders Go Home Happy
In the very possible likelihood that the Raiders struggle to run the ball, they are going to have to open some things up with the passing game. The Steelers defense is most vulnerable to quick underneath passes. The same kind the Raiders do not throw.
This may be a good game to unleash McFadden in the passing game. Get him out in some of those quick hitting routes and as always use Reece to occupy the defense and create mismatches by splitting him out wide. The Steelers are 12th in DVOA pass defending RBs, but the Raiders have a unique set of pass catching backs.
Where the Steelers have been the weakest in pass defense is at other WRs (not a 1 or 2) and TEs where they have a 23rd ranked DVOA against each. Let's hope Zach Miller can play. It may cause the Steelers to get out of their cover-2. The Patriots showed last week how a TE can toast this D. If they do rotate their D to slow down Miller it will open up the outside like it did last year, where Louis Murphy abused their secondary.
Another interesting thing to watch here will be Louis Murphy in the slot, assuming DHB plays. Early in the year, in 3 WR sets, the Raiders typically shifted Murphy to the slot and had DHB and JLH on the outside. With the emergence of Jacoby Ford on the outside it makes this 3 WR set look even more appealing and it could put Murphy in a slot position that is harder for the Steelers to cover.
On defense, the Raiders need to stop the run. The Steelers run the ball with the 5th most frequency in the league. If the Raiders' defensive line dominates, they should be able to hold the Steelers to 3rd and longs. When they get to those situations, they need to limit Roethlisberger's ability to get outside the pocket, to limit the defensive breakdowns and big plays. If the Steelers decide to abandon the run in favor of more passes, "The opposing QB must go down and he must go down hard."
Maybe most importantly, the Raiders need to protect the football. This may be a field position game and turnovers will be deadly.
Worth watching is the Steelers new kicker. Whose name is weird and I am not going to bother to look up. I did see that he does not have the strongest leg and the Raiders should get some decent starting field position. Also, field goals may be at a premium in this one and the Steelers have some dude kicking for them that had been sitting on his couch watching the NFL.