I caught up with Neal Coolong from the SB Nation site, Behind the Steel Curtain for this week's "Five good questions". He had a lot to say about the Steelers that Raider fans should find very useful as the Raiders head into week three to face the Steelers.
Here are my five questions followed by his answers:
1. Do you think James Harrison and/or Troy Polamalu will play on Sunday? And what affect will their absence have on the Steelers?
I doubt either will play, that's been kind of expected this week. As far as the impact goes, it's been often debated on Behind The Steel Curtain whether Polamalu at 70 percent is worse than safety Ryan Mundy is at 100 percent. Through two games, the Steelers have been gashed on the ground, and a part of that has been the absence of Harrison. In Week 2, against the Jets, Polamalu's presence in the box was noticeable, but fortunately for the Steelers, a two-score lead for most of the second half kept the Jets from running very often, and good coverage kept them off the field.
Either of them, when healthy are irreplaceable, despite the standard Mike Tomlin blanket statement of "The Standard Is The Standard." The team simply is not going to be as dominant against the run without Harrison and Polamalu being 100 percent and on the field. Back-up OLBs Jason Worilds and Chris Carter (split snaps in Harrison's absence in Week 2) are simply not the run defenders Harrison is.
They also don't have the ability to alter the course of a game the way Harrison has in the past. Teams have to play with who's there, though, and it's probably been planned for Harrison to return after the bye (Week 4).
2. What is up with the Steelers run game? They're ranked 30th in the league with just 70.5 yards per game.
They're struggling on the ground, to put it mildly, although not for a lack of effort. We looked at this extensively this past week, and upon watching their two games, it seems the problems come from all over, and are attributable to a general lack of cohesion along the line as well as technical flaws among the offensive linemen and running backs not hitting holes. They've taken lots of big losses - negative-3 or more - which destroys their average, but they aren't breaking off big runs either. It's definitely an area of concern, but it isn't something we should expect won't expect them to abandon Sunday. The Raiders should be prepared to see another 25+ carry game plan, but I would expect the Steelers to attack Oakland wide, with multiple receiver screens (long handoffs) that give the Steelers' receivers chances to make plays in space.
But with tight end Heath Miller having missed practice Wednesday and Thursday (this was written before Friday's practice), his absence would be a huge hit to the running game, and could alter their plans.
3. What are the Steelers current top three strengths?
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has taken to the rhythm-based offense of new coach Todd Haley like a duck to water. He's the league's best third down quarterback through two games, and that has been the Steelers' saving grace to this point.
To compliment that, Roethlisberger has an outstanding cast of receivers - with wide receivers Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace along with Miller leading the way - and he's using all of them to a good level of success.
Their secondary showed a vast improvement from Week 1 to Week 2, despite having started a different combination of safeties in both games (Polamalu and Mundy in Week 1, Ryan Clark and Mundy in Week 2). Their final three quarters were considerably better than their first five quarters, and I'm leaning more toward the former being the standard for the group.
4. What are the Steelers current top three weaknesses?
Running the ball. Yeah, that's a weakness. No one's going to mistake the Steelers' offensive line and ability to run the ball with the 98 Broncos, but they're getting used to a new scheme on the ground. It's just not there yet.
Nose tackle Casey Hampton is getting the bulk of the snaps in the base defense, but he is struggling against the run. To counter that, the Steelers implemented what they call their "Big Nickel" package, which was a 4-2-5 involving defensive ends Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward as 3-technique tackles. Judging by how often Oakland has thrown the ball in two games (which isn't a good sample size, obviously), I would expect the Steelers to use this formation, despite its lack of success against the Jets early in the game.
Not sure if this counts as a weakness, but the Steelers have suffered injuries to key players since they first got to training camp. Miller didn't practice Tuesday or Wednesday, and his loss would be damaging. Back-up OT Mike Adams was limited on Wednesday and didn't practice Thursday, and his absence Sunday would mean a rookie 7th-round draft pick (Kelvin Beachum) would be the only reserve tackle. One injury there (which is something Steelers fans have almost come to expect as a weekly thing) would be devastating.
5. I would have to say that the Steelers are one of the only teams in the league outside the AFC West which the Raiders still feel a rivalry for after all these years. Do the Steelers and their fans feel the same way about it?
Yep. Behind The Steel Curtain prides itself on being a place for intelligent discussion with a sense of history. Talking about the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers without mentioning the Oakland Raiders is like talking about Pepsi without mentioning Coke.
For my part, much of the enjoyment I get from covering the Steelers is the vast majority of games are played against teams with whom the Steelers have some kind of past or rivalry. It's Oakland this week, and inter-state rival Philadelphia in Week 5 (bye in Week 4). After that it's Tennessee, a team that used to be the Houston Oilers and created its own rivalry with the Steelers. I'd put Denver and the Jets in the same realm as Tennessee (more current rivalries) with the Raiders being the primary inter-conference enemy.
It makes things fun.
To see my answers to his questions, Click Here