The Las Vegas Raiders are set to take on Kenny Pickett and the Pittsburgh Steelers as slight underdogs on DraftKings Sportsbook for their Week 16/Christmas Eve matchup. However, Pickett has been a bit of a wild card this season which should give Raiders fans more confidence heading into the game.
So, for this week’s five questions with the enemy, I made sure ot ask Jeff Hartman of Behind the Steel Curtain about Picketts’ volatile play as well as a few other questions to give Raider Nation a preview of what’s to come this Saturday.
Question: I know Franco Harris was still pretty involved with the Steelers, so I’m curious if any current players have spoken about Harris and how they will honor him on Saturday after he passed away earlier this week?
Answer: Franco Harris was a Pittsburgh icon. Not just with sports, but in general. The man was ever-present in the city, foundations and especially with the Steelers. Current players had a great relationship with Harris based on his involvement with the team.
Obviously, players from Penn State, like Pat Freiermuth, had a natural connection with Harris, another PSU alum, but players like Najee Harris have spoken openly about what Franco meant to him. How his words of encouragement were things that will always stick with him throughout his career. Franco meant a lot to the organization, and that includes the current players/coaches.
Q: Like most rookie quarterbacks, Kenny Pickett has had his ups and downs this season. What’s been the biggest difference between good Kenny and bad Kenny this year?
A: To be honest, the difference has been the pre-bye Kenny, and the post-bye Kenny. Before the bye week, Pickett was making mistakes with the football, thinking he can fit the football into windows that might have been open in college, but not in the NFL. Pickett has spoken openly about how it isn’t the speed of the NFL which has been an adjustment, but how many defenses the opposition has at their disposal.
Nonetheless, since the bye, Pickett hasn’t turned the ball over and has been extremely steady at the helm. He has shown an understanding of defenses but also knows when to tuck the ball and run, utilizing his legs to extend drives and gain yardage instead of trying to force the situation. In other words, Pickett is learning while on the job, and the fact he is trending in the right direction is promising.
Q: Offensive line was a point of emphasis for the Steelers in the offseason, so how have their moves in the trenches worked out, and how confident are you in Pittsburgh’s tackles against Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones?
A: Crosby and Jones will certainly test the Steelers’ offensive front, but their continuity along the line has been a huge factor in the Steelers’ offensive success. Since the Week 9 bye the thing the team has done the best is run the football. There has only been one game during that time when the Steelers failed to rush for 100 yards as a team.
If they can run the ball, they should set themselves up with manageable down and distances, which will help the line in having to block the Raiders’ pass rushers for a lengthy amount of time.
Q: Minkah Fitzpatrick obviously draws the headlines from the Steelers’ secondary, but fellow safety Terrell Edmunds is starting to come into his own. Can you tell us a little about Edmunds’ skillset and growth over the years?
A: Steelers fans couldn’t stand the fact Edmunds was a first-round pick. Why? Because some draftniks said he should have been a Day 2, or 3rd Round, selection. Despite those narratives, Edmunds has been unbelievably serviceable and steady since his rookie season.
In fact, after signing a one-year contract with the team this offseason, many, even the haters, feel as if Edmunds deserves a long-term contract with the team to keep both he and Fitzpatrick together.
Edmunds isn’t just a serviceable player, but the way he plays the safety position can lead to tremendous versatility. He plays safety like a linebacker and has the speed and versatility to cover running backs and tight ends. When their safeties are healthy they are a great tandem, Edmunds just gets overshadowed by the All-Pro next to him.
Q: The Raiders and Steelers are deadlocked in the AFC Wild Card standings at 6-8 heading into the game. Whoever wins will still need some help to get to the playoffs, but DraftKings Sportsbook has the Raiders at +2000 and the Steelers at +3000 to make the postseason, despite DK favoring Pittsburgh on Saturday. Two-part question, who would you bet on for the game, and what do you think of the winner’s playoff chances with two regular-season games left?
A: I don’t think either team has a legitimate shot at the playoffs, they’ve just lost too many games they can’t afford to lose against AFC competition. So, I don’t think if either team wins they’ll make the postseason.
As for the game Saturday, I like the Steelers to hold serve at home. They haven’t done well against the Raiders of late, and the death of Franco Harris will either sink or lift the team. I’ll bank on the team playing hard for the iconic Harris. I’ll take the Steelers.