Steelers vs Raiders: Breakdown, matchups and prediction
Still reeling from last week’s division loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Pittsburgh Steelers enter the second half of their 2015 campaign in a desperate struggle to keep their playoff hopes alive. Constant injuries have derailed what was once thought to be a season in which the Steelers would represent the AFC in Super Bowl 50, but this has not stopped them for fighting through adversity.
On a crisp, 51 degree Sunday afternoon, the Steelers will host the Oakland Raiders. The stories of these two teams date back nearly half a century, and they are never without luster. Ask any Raider fan from the early 1970s and he will tell you the Immaculate Reception never happened, the ball hit the ground, and that Fred Swearingen ruined their chances of making the Super Bowl.
Though the Steelers/Raiders rivalry isnt as prolific as it once was, these two teams still clash as if playoff implications were on the line and today is no exception. Back in his second game since spraining his MCL in week three, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger leads a Steelers offense against a Raiders D that head coach Jack Del Rio is turning into something special.
Though they will be plentiful all over the field on Sunday, these three matchups have the potential to be the most game-changing and exciting:
Steelers’ cornerback Ross Cockrell vs. Raiders’ wide receiver Amari Cooper
Since being signed by the Steelers after being released from Buffalo during final roster cuts, Ross Cockrell has firmly planted himself into the number one cornerback slot. For being a little known second year corner coming out of Duke University, the young man has been playing quite well. Last week he was able to hold AJ Green, arguably one of the best receivers in the league, to one touchdown catch that came with about three minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
His opposition today will be Amari Cooper. The fourth overall selection in this year’s NFL draft, Cooper has become the defacto number one wide receiver for the Raiders and one of quarterback Derek Carr’s favorite targets. With 565 yards and three touchdowns under his belt already this year, Cooper looks to add to that impressive rookie stat line against Pittsburgh’s secondary. Holding the potential Offensive Rookie of the Year to minimal yardage will be paramount in their success.
Steelers’ running back DeAngelo Williams vs. Raiders’ defensive end Khalil Mack
DeAngelo Williams is once again the main guy in the Steelers’ backfield after Le’Veon Bell’s tragic season ending MCL tear against the Bengals last week. Though losing Bell takes an extremely talented individual away from their offense, they have a savy veteran that is more than capable of taking the reigns for the remainder of the season.
Williams displayed his effectiveness in the first two games of the year while Bell was out for a two game suspension, accumilating nearly 250 yards and three touchdowns. Though he didnt have a large role in the running game over the next month, he was able to come off the bench when needed and perform. He proved that he was able to shake off the rust early when he was able to break off a 55 yard run agains the Bengals last week.
The Raiders have made some impressive draft selections in the past two years, which started with defensive lineman Khalil Mack. Though he was often placed at linebacker in his rookie year, his conversion to defensive end in his sophomore year has been very successful. Mack leads an impressive front seven on the Raiders defense that has become quite effective at stopping the run.
Oakland was able to hold the Jets’ offense, one of the top rushing teams in the AFC, to only 74 yards on 21 carries. Mack will look early and often to stuff Williams behind the line of scrimmage, but the veteran must be elusive and allow his offensive line to open up lanes. If the Steelers can dominate on the ground, it will set them up to be able to dominate through the air, as well.
Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger vs. Raiders’ safety Charles Woodson
Big Ben has been under center for quite a while in the NFL, but one man across from him on the field today has been terrorizing quarterbacks since the late 90’s. Thirty-nine year old Charles Woodson has enjoyed his 18th season in the NFL so far, looking as if he is ten years younger with his stellar play, and amazing ability to get the ball in his hands. With five interceptions this year, he is only four away from tying his career best (9) that he set in 2009 as a Green Bay Packer.
Woodson will be Ben’s biggest threat in the secondary, as Oakland’s cornerback situation leaves much to be desired. The Raiders have relied heavily on Woodson to produce for them, and he has not disappointed them. Roethlisberger’s gunsliger mentality could hurt him today if he gets too antsy and makes any wild, deep passes. If they are not on the money, we could see them fall into the hands of the Raiders’ talented safety, giving their offense a chance to score.
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Both teams are in the hunt for a wildcard playoff berth as January rapidly approaches. The Steelers offense must not be held to only field goals if they have any chance of winning today. With Big Ben back and showing no signs of regression with his knee, there is no excuse that he cannot get the ball into his receivers hands. The offensive line must step up and play the best game of their season. They know what is at stake going forward, and know that there is no room for error.
Prediction: The Steelers shake off talks that their offense is wounded without the presence of Le’Veon Bell and Roethlisberger has a shootout with Derek Carr in which Big Ben throws four TD passes. Steelers end their losing streak and send the Raiders back to California with a 4-4 record.