Just two weeks ago, the Steelers were winless on the season and looking like a shell of their former selves. They were 0-4 with losses to the Titans, Bengals, Bears, and Vikings. Each loss, they scored more points but also gave up more, culminating in giving up 37 points to the Vikings with Matt Cassel at quarterback.
Then they had a bye week. And that's when everything changed.
Since their week 5 bye week, the Steelers have had two straight wins over the Jets and Ravens - both teams with winning records going in. Now what looked like a pushover team is now anything but.
"I think when you look over the past couple weeks, they've gotten back a bit more to running the football, the power running game," Dennis Allen said of the Steelers resurgence. "They did that in this game against Baltimore, they ran the ball a little bit more effectively and a little bit more in the Jet game."
The Steelers did have their best rushing game of the season against the Ravens. They ran for 141 yards on the ground which is more than twice their season average going in.
What they did against the Jets was force turnovers. They hadn't forced any turnovers in the previous four games while giving up 11 of their own. That is where Allen sees the key to this game.
"I think it's gonna come down to really, and it does this way most weeks, the turnover takeaway ratio is gonna be a big factor in this football game," said Allen. "We've gotta do a better job of taking the ball away defensively, we gotta do a better job in the kicking game, getting our offense set up in scoring position, and then we've gotta do a better job offensively, when we have the ball we've gotta protect it better."
The Raiders had a lot of difficulty early in the season with taking the ball away. They didn't force a turnover until week three. Then in week four they lost to the Redskins by turning the ball over three times - one being an interception for a touchdown. In a week five win over the Chargers, they forced 5 turnovers. Then they fell back to earth the following week by turning the ball over three times in a loss to the Chiefs - one being an interception for a touchdown.
Turnover ratio is no big secret when it comes to wins and losses in the NFL. But with two teams who match up fairly evenly, they could very much be the key.
The Steelers need to run the ball to win and the Raiders haven't allowed a run of over 20 yards all season. The Raiders win with a mobile quarterback and a solid defense. The Steelers two wins have come against a team with a mobile quarterback followed by a team with a solid defense.
The Steelers had their resurgence after their bye week. The Raiders are coming off their bye week although that has not worked in their favor for over a decade.
For these reasons, the Raiders can't just be steady, they must make something happen.