Pittsburgh Steelers (4-4) vs. Oakland Raiders (4-3)
Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015
Here is a look at the statistical leaders for the both the Steelers and Raiders heading into the Week 9 contest at Heinz Field.
SERIES HISTORY:** Raiders lead, 12-9 (3-3 postseason).
LAST MEETING: Raiders 21, Steelers 18, Oct. 27, 2013, O.co Coliseum: QB Terrelle Pryor ran 93 yards for a touchdown on the Raiders' first snap as Oakland built an 18-point halftime lead and then hung on despite the Steelers' 15-point fourth quarter. The Steelers forced a season-high three takeaways and allowed a season-low 82 net yards passing but managed just 35 yards rushing and 276 total net yards.
LAST TIME OUT: The Raiders knocked Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick out on the first series on the way to a 34-20 victory last Sunday in Oakland. The Steelers fell to the Bengals, 16-10, at Heinz.
WHEN THE RAIDERS HAVE THE BALL: The emphasis will likely be on protecting it. Oakland has committed nine turnovers, which ties the Steelers for the ninth-fewest in the NFL. The Raiders' No. 9 offense has produced just three rushing touchdowns but has 20 overall and is capable of sustaining drives by running or throwing.
QB Derek Carr gets the ball out quickly and has good pocket mobility (he's been sacked eight times in seven games). Carr doesn't force passes into coverage (three INTs) and he knows where the check-downs are. He also throws the deep ball well and will take a hit in the pocket to make a play. The Raiders appear to be on to something with the second-year, former second-round pick. RB Latavius Murray (534 yards, 4.6 yards per carry) is a 6-foot-3, 230-pound combination of burst and agility. And FB Michael Reece is a 6-1, 250-pound pass-catcher (the Raiders threw him a flanker-screen in the Jets game). Oakland's backfield is difficult to tackle.
The Raiders secured WR Amari Cooper in this year's draft (first round) and WR Michael Crabtree in free agency (San Francisco) to provide Carr with some targets. Cooper was perceived by the Jets as a threat worthy of being followed by CB Darrelle Revis. And Crabtree has as many touchdowns (three) and more receiving yards (565-483). Oakland will throw deep but relies more on yards after the catch (Cooper excels in that capacity), which puts an emphasis on tackling the catch. WR Andre Holmes has three TDs on six catches and WR Seth Roberts has two touchdowns on nine receptions. Carr will find the open guy.
WHEN THE STEELERS HAVE THE BALL:** The challenge will be to withstand penetration in the running game and pressure in the passing game on the way to attacking the secondary.
The NFL's No. 2 run defense allows an average of 82.9 yards per game. The Raiders held Jets RB Chris Ivory to 17 yards on 15 carries, including five negative runs (part of an overall defensive effort that amassed nine tackles for a loss against an offensive line that was missing C Nick Mangold). Oakland can stuff a third-and-1. LDE Khalil Mack is the Raiders' best defensive player. ROLB Aldon Smith isn't consistently what he was in San Francisco but on any given snap he's combustible on the rush.
The secondary incudes RCB David Amerson, recently released by Washington and now a starter for Oakland. There isn't a match-up, shut-down corner in the bunch. But the eraser is 39-year old Charles Woodson, who'll line up in the deep middle in passing situations and then go find the ball. Woodson leads the NFL with five interceptions because he's been able to go get the ball and make plays on it. Be wary, Big Ben.
SPECIAL-TEAMS HEADLINERS: K Sebastian Janikowski still has a 50-yard/touchback leg. The Raiders are first in the AFC and sixth in the NFL in average start following a kickoff (22.2-yard line). RB Taiwan Jones averages 28.2 yards on kickoff returns (tied for third in the NFL). Opponents start at the 19.5-yard line (first in the NFL). Steelers K Chris Boswell still hasn't missed (8-for-8 on field goals, 6-for-6 on extra points).
THE X-FACTOR: Every starter listed by the Raiders on offense or defense was acquired in 2013 or later via the draft or free agency with the exception of Reece (undrafted free agent, 2008). Oakland has been collecting talent rapidly in recent seasons, but have the Raiders become a team this season under first-year head coach Jack Del Rio? Now that they've played their way into the playoff chase in the season's first half, are they prepared to make the most of the opportunity in the second?
THEY SAID IT: "No more excuses. We gotta go, we gotta play hard. We gotta go out and just play for each other." - WR Martavis Bryant on the Steelers' approach at 4-4.