Battle of the Bland.
That’s what the matchup between the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers and the host Las Vegas Raiders looks like on the surface. And for a primetime Sunday night showdown, that’s not exactly a ratings draw and marquee contest.
Nonetheless, the Steelers and Raiders remain popular franchises with loyal fanbases backing the brands. The football viewing world will get solid insight on both AFC teams on NBC.
Both teams enter the showcase at 1-1 and trying to navigate a course past its respective struggles. The Raiders were on the road the first two weeks of the season eking out a 17-16 win over the Denver Broncos before a 38-10 walloping at the hands of the Buffalo Bills this past Sunday. The Steelers, on the other hand, played their first two games at home and had the opposite happen where they were drubbed by the San Francisco 49ers 30-7 before surging past the Cleveland Browns 26-22 on Monday Night Football.
Pittsburgh’s offense is one of the worst the league through the first two weeks of the regular season. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada and his crew may be ranked 26th in points scored (33) but that total accounts for all the points the Steelers have scored. Meaning, the 14 points the team put on the board defensively is in that number. Take away that and the offense has scored a paltry total of 19, which would put them in the basement amongst the 32 teams.
Which leads us to the first major area of concern for the Raiders: The Steelers offense, namely wide receiver George Pickens.
Defense, where art thou?
The second-year receiver is tall (6-foot-3), fast, and torched the Browns defense for a 71-yard catch-and-run in Pittsburgh’s win this past week. Pickens can make a defense pay for any lapse in coverage — despite Steelers’ overall struggles offensively.
Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Matt Canada isn’t orchestrating a light the opponent up-type of offense. It’s incoherent at times and very sluggish. Quarterback Kenny Pickett is completing 60.5 percent of his passes and has a total of 454 yard passing with two touchdowns and three interceptions under his belt so far. He’s been sacked seven times with rhythm hard to come by.
The Silver & Black have a dubious distinction of being the remedy to what ails the opposition. And that can be a fortuitous turn of events for the Steelers. Even with Pittsburgh’s offense struggling, the team draws a Las Vegas defense that is stumbling along, too. The lack of a viable tag team partner to edge rusher Maxx Crosby is leaving the Raiders defense at the mercy of the opposition’s offense as evidenced by the team allowing a staggering 81.6 completion percentage (58 of 71) and five touchdown passes (second most in the league). Las Vegas also yields 277 yards rushing (a robust average of 4.9 yards) through it’s two game thus far.
In the red zone, the Patrick Graham-orchestrated Raiders defense has allowed seven touchdowns to opponents in the 10 times they’ve been inside the 20 (70 percent), good for the 22nd ranking in the league.
The Raiders must perform better at the line of scrimmage to quell the Steelers offense. Same goes for Las Vegas’ offense.
Watt Goes Around
A lot of attention goes to Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt and rightfully so. The linebacker is a terrorizing pass rusher and has four sacks on the year with two forced fumbles and two passes defensed already.
But not to be outdone is Alex Highsmith.
The other Steelers linebacker had an interception return for a score in the team’s win and had a strip sack that Watt picked up for the other defensive score under the lights against the Browns.
The Raiders offensive line hasn’t given up a sack yet — the only team in the league with that distinction — but the offense was roughed up against Buffalo as the air attack and ground game were neutralized outside of Las Vegas’ first scoring drive.
As a whole, Raiders head coach Josh McDaniel’s offense ranks 30th in both points scored (27) and yards gained (501). Las Vegas has an even split of touchdowns to interceptions at three and the rushing attack has yet to find the end zone.
In the Raiders six red zone visits, three resulted in touchdowns (50 percent) giving McDaniels’ offense the distinction of the 21st ranked group in that category.
The tale of the tape between the Steelers and Raiders portends to something giving Sunday night. Both teams haven’t found critical consistency and don’t be surprised if both engage in a sluggish affair.
Quote of Note:
“The Steelers have done it the right way for a long time. Coach [Mike] Tomlin,17 years, I mean never had a losing season. Just so much respect for him and the program that he runs there, the way they do things, how they play, how competitive they are every week, every year. Our team is hard at work learning the things that they do, how they do them, and they do a lot of things well. They’ve got a lot of really good football players. They can win and beat you in a lot of different ways. They’re physical, they’re explosive in all three phases. We saw that on Monday night, how they ended up kind of flipping the game around there.” -Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels on the Pittsburgh Steelers