Friday, September 21, 2012

Steelers at Raiders - Commitment to Mediocrity

A long time ago in a galaxy far away...

Years ago when the Oakland Raiders were a power in the NFL, their eccentric owner Al Davis coined slogans such as "Commitment to Excellence" and the famous "Just Win, Baby."

These are not your father's Raiders.

Since being blasted in the Super Bowl in 2002, they have gone a combined 45-99 through 2011. So far in 2012, they're 0-2 and hurting at key positions.

The Raiders of this generation look nothing like what Al Davis built for so many years: there is no air of supremacy when they step on the field, there is no fear of the big, bad silver and black and they just don't win, baby.

It has been a commitment to mediocrity.

Despite that, the 2006 2-14 Raiders beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 20-13. It was a game in which a concussed, recently stitched up and lucky to be alive Ben Roethlisberger shouldn't have played. He threw four interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. We wrote in out last article about their secondary problems, so don't expect a repeat performance. -

Nonetheless, this is the NFL and an overlooking of an opponent can lead to a loss. We've seen it yet again this season around the league already and are sure to see it again...just not this weekend.

The Steelers may have their issues, especially running the ball, but the Raiders are worse. They have a very poor running game that only averages only 2.0 yards per carry (YPC). They also have their troubles in the air.

Starting quarterback Carson Palmer has already thrown 94 passes, second highest in the NFL. Palmer has the yards to show for it (670), but he’s only produced two touchdown passes. He ranks 22nd in the league with a 84.1 passer rating.

The coaching staff is still weary of the veteran QB and what the potential the Raiders offense has.

"This guy is a veteran guy, who is very familiar with us and how we attack people," head coach Mike Tomlin said on Tuesday. "He probably has as much experience against facing our defense and our pre snap looks and our blitz packages, as any quarterback in football. He's always represented himself well against us."

That's a bit of Tomlin-speak actually. Palmer has completed just 234 of 410 pass attempts for 2,402 yards and 17 touchdowns against 11 interceptions when facing the Steelers in the regular season action with 11 interceptions.

They don't exactly have All-Pros at wide receiver either. Instead of T. J. Houshmandzadeh, Chris Henry and the vociferous Chad Johnson/Ochocinco/Johnson/Inmate 92-3654AJ-42, Palmer has Darrius Heyward-Bey, Rod Streater and Denarius Moore to catch his passes.

I thought it was interesting to see Dick LeBeau experiment with the 4-2-5 alignment five times against Jets when he hadn't used it in Training Camp or preseason. -

Equally interested by the lack of snaps for Steve McLendon. Casey Hampton still getting the greater number of snaps. Especially with use of the 4-2-5, I would have thought McLendon would see more snaps. Not yet, though.

I would think we'd see more of the more agile McLendon if the Raiders do use Darren McFadden in the Wildcat formation like the Steelers expect they might. -

The Raiders, though, will be without starting right tackle Khalif Barnes which should allow LaMarr Woodley to be able to have his way with backup Willie Smith. Their suspect interior should be susceptible to LeBeau's crossfire blitz scheme as well.

The Steelers have blitzed on 50.8% of the passing plays against them this year so far. Without James Harrison and Troy Polamalu once again (and probably until the Tennessee Titans Thursday night game, that may increase Sunday.

Defensively for the Raiders, it should be noted that they've allowed 295 yards on the ground in two losses, putting them in the bottom five of the league in run defense. So, running on them should aid the Steelers paltry numbers on the ground.

Last Sunday, 47% of the plays executed by the Steelers’ offense were runs, but Redman only had 25 yards on 12 carries, while Dwyer had only 28 on 12 attempts. Most of this came on the 10-minute scoring drive. Tomlin recognizes the need for improvement.

"We’ve got to get better on first-and-10, second-and-medium. We’ve got to block better."

Steel Curtain Radio's Lance Williams considers the Steelers inability to run and the Raiders inability to stop the run to be a wash, though. His latest podcast brilliantly breaks down what to expect this Sunday. -

The difference once again might just be the passing game. The difference in the Steelers wide receiving corps and the aforementioned Raiders WRs is most evident in this stat: the Steelers are tops in the NFL in converting third downs at 55.9%, including 8 of 13 when needing at least nine yards. The Raiders, on the other hand, are dead last at 22.2%.

Naturally, a big part of that is quarterback Big Ben Roethlisberger. He's been lethal on third down in the first two games and is completing approximately 65% of his passes and has a 99.5 passer rating. An "MVP-type of quarterback" according to wide receiver Mike Wallace.

These are not your father's Oakland Raiders. Don't expect another Immaculate Reception. -

Should all of this play out like I expect it to, look for the Steelers to go to 2-1 on the season with a 24-13 victory.