Game Preview: Raiders at Steelers

I mentioned before that in their dominating victories over the Jets and Chargers in the last two weeks, the Raiders caught some significant breaks in each game, and that the mark of truly good teams is that they know how to take advantage of those breaks when they come along. The Raiders came into each game playing crisp, focused ball, and the breaks just made it that much easier to roll their opponents.

So in heading into Heinz Field — always a tough place — this Sunday, the Raiders catch yet another break, in that Steelers RB LeVeon Bell, arguably the key component in their offense, is out for the rest of the season. DeAngelo Williams is also a very good running back, averaging just under 5.0 yards per carry, but so is the Jets’ Chris Ivory, whom the Raiders held to just 17 yards on 15 carries last Sunday.

Ben Roethlisberger is clearly still on the mend, but he and Antonio Brown are always a dangerous combination. Given the QB shuffling Pittsburgh has had to do far this season, it’s understandable that Brown is by far the team’s leading receiver, with 52 receptions for 718 yards and 3 TDs. But after that it’s a very steep drop-off; tight end Heath Miller is second with 27 receptions for 273 yards, and receivers Markus Wheaton, Martavis Bryant, and former Raider Darrius Heyward-Bey all linger between 209 and 257 yards.

Oakland has better balance as far as receivers, with Michael Crabtree’s stats very close to Amari Cooper’s, but also key contributions from receivers down the chain, such as Andre Holmes and Marcel Reece. Holmes only has six receptions on the year, for 107 yards, but three touchdowns, showing how effective his size and speed are when used. The o-line is providing great pass protection, as Carr has been sacked only 10 times in 7 games, and Carr’s confidence in Cooper and Crabtree have allowed him — and them — to progress very quickly as the season goes along. Really, you can see it from game to game.

The key here is really more about getting the road whammy off their back. On the one hand, the Raiders won in Cleveland for the first time in thirty years; on the other hand, they then went to Chicago and played down to the level of the opponent, and lost a squeaker. But the two games they’ve put together since the bye week have boosted them into the top ten power rankings, they are very healthy compared to most other teams right now, and are rolling. This is going to be another good game, and a very winnable one.

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