Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Steelers, Raiders Renew Old Rivalry, Try To Renew Season Hopes

A big-time matchup between two perennial powerhouse AFC teams that is sure to have playoff implications.

In the 1970s.

The 2013 version of the Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers matchup, however, isn't exactly your father's rivalry. There won't be anyone who'll be mistaken for John Matuszak, Mean Joe Greene, Lyle Alzado or Jack Tatum.

With both teams at 2-4, neither division nor conference titles are on the line, either.

Nonetheless, there is a rivalry that does still exist between the two teams. Certainly not like that of, say, the Baltimore Ravens last Sunday. Still, these are two teams rich in tradition and history - 3-3 head-to-head in the playoffs between 1972-1984 - as they combine for a total of nine Super Bowl Rings, which is tied for the most of any two AFC teams.

When they take the field Sunday afternoon, though, only recent history will matter. A recent history that has seen the Raiders defeat the Steelers on a three-year interval in the last decade: 2006, 2009 and 2012. Each time, the loss costing the Steelers a chance at the playoffs.

The same would happen this season as the Steelers are already in a hole having lost their first four games. Another loss, another loss to the Raiders no less, would essentially end the Steelers already-slim playoff hopes. It would take arithmetic requiring more than the fingers and toes I have to calculate whatever sliver of possibility remained.

That means this is a must-win game for the Steelers. Each game is.

The Raiders won't make it easy, though. Sunday will have twice as much of a chance of seeing LaMarr get a sack...because LaMarr Houston leads the Raiders pass rush. He's accompanied by Charles Woodson and Tracy Porter leading a Raiders defense ranked 12th in the NFL, but that has twice as many sacks (16) as the Steelers.

On offense, Denarius Moore and Rod Streater lead the passing attack, while Darren McFadden and Jacoby Ford provide enough wrinkles to keep Dick LeBeau and the defense on alert.

But it's quarterback Terrelle Pryor who is their main and true weapon. His numbers aren't exactly All-Pro, but he is dangerous. He's completing 64.5% of his passes and leads the Raiders in rushing. He's sleek, shifty and can strike at a moment's notice - kind of like a snake. (I know you got that...)

Two things, however, are in the Steelers favor: the Raiders haven't won a game coming off of a bye in approximately 10 years, and the Raiders return from said bye facing many questions on the offensive line.

The Raiders struggled mightily in their last game in Kansas City as many of their starters were and are down with injuries. Backups are working with the first teamers as the Raiders may be without center Stefen Wisniewski, tackle Tony Pashos and guard Andre Gurode Sunday. - http://tinyurl.com/klwuneo

The Steelers will take any and all advantages that may come their way as they continue to attempt to turn the season around toward a winning record.

And also as they attempt to reverse the recent losing trend to the Raiders - every three years in the last 10.

Maybe even start a new trend. The last Steelers victory against the Raiders? Three years ago in 2010.

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TIDBITS: Steelers signed RB George Winn to their practice squad. They signed TE Richard Gordon last week. They also have Bruce Gradkowski as backup QB - all former Raiders. Gamesmanship, anyone?

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STEELERS INJURY REPORT: {tuesday} Beachum (ribs), Woodley (knee), Keisel (ribs), Gilbert (quad), Gordon (toe), Heyward (sick) and Timmons (broken hand/wrist - in cast, but will play Sunday).

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Tomlin singled out CB Curtis Brown and P Zoltan Mesko for "below the line" play. He said Brown was set Sunday because his special teams play has slipped. Brown has had just one defensive play all season, so special teams was his meal ticket.

Mesko has had at least one "junior varsity," as Tomlin put it, punt per game and needs more consistency. True to Tomlin's word, Mesko ranks near the bottom of the NFL with a 42.4 yards per punt average.