RAIDERS 21, STEELERS 18
Steelers' record: 2-5
One year ago: 4-3
Series record (including playoffs): Raiders lead, 15-12
It's a different challenge for a team when it faces an opponent employing a quarterback who is the team's leading rusher. That description applied to the Raiders, where Terrelle Pryor had rushed for more yards than Darren McFadden and was doing it with a 6.5 average. Mike Tomlin explained the strategy: "We have to do a good job of not only containing, but also constricting this quarterback. Often when you play somebody as dangerous as Pryor, you can spend a lot of time worrying about containing him and not be aggressive enough to apply pressure. We need to do both."
It was Terrelle Pryor's 93-yard touchdown run on the first play of the game. It set a tone that the Steelers never were able to overcome.
STAT THAT STANDS OUT I
The Steelers arrived here with a 1-3 record in regular season games where they have traveled three time zones in the Mike Tomlin era. They had lost to Arizona in 2007, San Francisco in 2011, and Oakland in 2012. The win had come against the Cardinals in 2011. After leaving Oakland with a loss, they are now 1-4.
STAT THAT STANDS OUT II
Oakland scored the first two touchdowns of the game to take a 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter. The first scoring "drive" took 19 seconds. The second took 2:36. Too easy.
A HISTORY LESSON
In the five NFL seasons from 1972-76, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders played nine times, and remember, they never were division opponents having a home-and-home engagement to add to the rivalry. Five of the nine games came in the playoffs, and three of those came in three straight AFC Championship games from 1974-76. Adding to the evidence that the Steelers and the Raiders were the best teams in the league at the time, the winner of those AFC Championships all went on to win the Super Bowl.
On the Thursday before the Steelers traveled here for this game, Mike Tomlin used some meeting time to talk to the current players about the history of this series. He explained why he believed that spending time on history can be worthwhile.
"Part of what it is that we're doing here is having an appreciation of what was done before us by the men who walked in the shoes of the men who play here now, and not only here but also for the other side. They just need to have an understanding of what goes into the history of these two franchises and what made these two organizations what they are.
"And the players absolutely love it. It's something that's underscored about this generation of player. There is an appreciation for history. I think they do want to learn and hear the stories from the past. Often that's an oral history, and that's how I went about researching it. I got it from Mr. (Dan) Rooney, and I gave it to them. It's been enjoyable. It's something I infuse into game-planning often during the course of the season."
TOMLIN EXPLAINS LINEUP DECISIONS
In hockey, for example, a coach will refuse to undo any lineup changes he has made until the team loses a game. Against the Ravens, the Steelers got significant contributions from William Gay at cornerback and from Guy Whimper at right tackle. Gay had been tabbed to replace Cortez Allen after a rough outing vs. the Vikings, and Whimper had replaced an injured Marcus Gilbert. Tomlin was asked how he decides when or whether to go back to the original depth chart.
"There aren't enough games in professional football for (the hockey) mentality," said Tomlin. "You have to trust your gut in terms of what you think is appropriate. I treat each individual case on its own merit. I'm very up-front with the group both individually and collectively about that so they know there won't be a standard protocol when dealing with these instances. That we have to trust our gut, that we have to do things with the best interests of the team in mind. That's what I try to do."
WHAT WENT RIGHT
The play began with Terrelle Pryor getting outside the pass rush of OLB Jarvis Jones, but then he overthrew Brice Butler and Troy Polamalu intercepted and returned the ball close to midfield with just under two minutes to go in the first quarter.
The Steelers got a second takeaway in the first half when a pass from Terrelle Pryor went through the hands of Brice Butler and Cortez Allen caught the carom for an interception to give the offense the ball at the Pittsburgh 43-yard line.
Zoltan Mesko had a rough afternoon, until late in the third quarter. He hit a 56-yard punt that appeared to be headed into the end zone until the bouncing ball hung a hard right turn as it got close to the goal line and was downed at the 1-yard line.
It became a three takeaway game for the Steelers when Lawrence Timmons stripped the ball from WR Jacoby Ford after a quick pass and Brett Keisel recovered on the Raiders 11-yard line. Oakland challenged the play, and the call on the field was confirmed.
WHAT WENT WRONG
The first play of the game? On a basic read-option play, Terrelle Pryor faked the ball to Darren McFadden, and with most of the Steelers defense flowing that way, Pryor pulled the ball out and sprinted 93 yards for a touchdown. Among those players flowing toward McFadden included LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, and Ryan Clark. Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu were unable to run Pryor down once he broke into the secondary. It was the longest run from scrimmage in the history of the Raiders franchise.
Things didn't get any better for the Steelers following Pryor's run. The offense went three-and-out. Zoltan Mesko hit a 54-yard punt, but it was returned 20 yards by Jacoby Ford. Robert Golden stripped the ball from Ford on the tackle, but the Steelers couldn't fall on it before it bounced out of bounds to preserve possession for Oakland at its own 48-yard line.
The Steelers had a punt blocked in their loss in Oakland last season, and Mesko's second attempt of the afternoon was blocked by Rashad Jennings. The block was made possible by Mesko not catching the snap cleanly, even though it hit him right in the hands. Jennings came in over David Paulson and got one hand on the ball, and the Raiders began the possession at the Steelers 26-yard line.
A third-and-5 turned into a third-and-10 for the Steelers when Emmanuel Sanders was flagged for a false start. On the third-and-10, there were two penalties on the Steelers – holding on Le'Veon Bell and an illegal forward pass on Ben Roethlisberger for running past the line of scrimmage before attempting a forward pass. Following this sequence, the Steelers were 0-for-5 on third downs.
The Steelers defense is having problems finding the football on running plays. Another glaring example is when Darren McFadden, taking the snap out of the wildcat, weaves from one side of the defense to the other before running 4 yards untouched for the touchdown that gave the Raiders a 21-3 lead.
Shaun Suisham's streak of 15 made field goals in a row this season ended with eight seconds left in the first half when he pushed a 34-yard attempt to the right with the Raiders holding a 21-3 lead.
The shuffling along the offensive line never seems to take a week off. By the end of the third quarter, the Steelers had lost Ramon Foster to a concussion, Guy Whimper to a left knee injury, and David DeCastro to a right ankle injury. That made the offensive line (left to right) Mike Adams, Kelvin Beachum, Fernando Velasco, Cody Wallace and Marcus Gilbert.