Last week, thanks to final-seconds fireworks, the Las Vegas Raiders survived a huge game on the ground by the New England Patriots.
This week, they must figure out a way to keep the Pittsburgh Steelers from doing the same thing, especially in a game that is going to be played in extremely cold weather (it’s expected to be less than 10 degrees at kickoff with a wind chill that makes it feel like 4-below zero). In addition, Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett is just returning from a concussion that kept him out of nearly two full games.
Clearly, the Steelers will want to establish the ground game Saturday night in a game between two 6-8 teams trying to cling onto faint playoff hopes.
The Patriots ran for 206 yards (including 20 lost yards on the ill-fated lateral play that ended the game with a Chandler Jones’ touchdown) and Rhamondre Stevenson had 172 yards on 19 carries, including a 34-yard touchdown rumble.
Las Vegas defensive coordinator Patrick Graham knows it’s something the Raiders have to address on this short week.
“Basically, saw a lot of stuff we need to work on in the next few days to get ready for Pittsburgh,” Graham told reporters this week. “So again, one, I got to do a better job calling some stuff and getting the guys in the right spot. But we got to work on our fundamentals in terms of run technique. Make sure we’re leveraging the formation and just doing a better job of controlling the line of scrimmage. That’s a big part of what we want to be as a defense, what coach [Josh] McDaniels sees us being as a football team, controlling the line of scrimmage. So, we got to do a better job there.”
Now, the focus is on stopping second-year Pittsburgh tailback Najee Harris, who is having a solid season with 790 rushing yards. Graham knows the physical Harris, who is dealing with a hip injury and who did not practice Wednesday, can present a challenge to his unit.
“I mean, he’s a big man. This is a very big man. I mean, just on the tape it seemed like he was bigger. I haven’t seen him in person before, so I’m looking forward to it,” Graham said. “I get excited about these big backs like Derrick Henry, those guys. But he’s a big man, it’s going to be a challenge. It’s going to be a challenge for everybody, it’s not going to be a one man show to tackle this guy. He has a stiff arm, he’s elusive, he has good speed, he has great vision. And it’s going to be a tough matchup. And then, the o-line I can’t say enough about these guys. They’re blocking people, they’re being physical at the line of scrimmage. They’re all big men and they do a good job of getting movement, so it’s going to be a challenge. And then the tight ends, they come in there, they’re all big and they can block, and the receivers can block. I’m sure when the quarterback comes out in one of these gadgets, he might block too. It’s a Pittsburgh football team. It’s going to be Saturday night; it’s going to be cold. It’s going to be fun.”