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Key Matchups: A couple of MAC legends will battle it out at Heinz Field


One down, 16 to go.

Following their 33-27 overtime victory over the Ravens, the Raiders now turn their attention to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Going up against the Steelers while coming off a short week will be a difficult task for the Raiders, especially after Pittsburgh defeated a good Buffalo Bills team last Sunday.

The Steelers' biggest strength has to be their overall defense lead by Cameron Heyward, T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Melvin Ingram III. A lot of change has happened over offseason to a Steelers team that went 12-4 last season, completely restructuring their offensive line and drafting Doak Walker Award winner Najee Harris with their 2021 first-round draft pick.

With a clash between two undefeated teams in the horizon, here are a few intriguing key matchups to watch out for this Sunday.

Madd Maxx vs. Big Ben

After being selected as the AFC Defensive Player of the Week, Maxx Crosby has no time to relax. He now must turn his attention to a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger.

The Raiders will rely on Crosby to lead the charge of rushing the passer after his two sack performance last Monday. Crosby will also be poised for another big game considering the Steelers' revamped offensive line is still trying to find ways to gel. In the Steelers' Week 1 victory, Roethlisberger was sacked twice and fumbled once. Roethlisberger, at 39 years old, also isn't as mobile of a quarterback as the Raiders' last opponent in Lamar Jackson. Therefore, the pass rush will be turned up to an even higher level for Crosby, who won't have to worry about containing the quarterback nearly as much.

"Obviously he's not as athletic as Lamar Jackson," Crosby said with a laugh, speaking about the contrast between his opposing Week 1 and 2 quarterbacks. "Lamar is kind of an anomaly in a way, but Big Ben is a great quarterback. ... Big Ben is a hell of a player, he's a first ballot Hall of Famer. We're definitely looking forward to it and I'm excited."

Even at 39, Roethlisberger is no chopped liver. The man has thrown for over 60,000 yards in his career and has three exceptional receivers to throw to in JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson. He is coming off his 48th career game-winning drive, moving him into fourth place all-time in NFL history in that category. If Crosby and the Raiders D-line don't find a way to disrupt the pocket quick, Big Ben could have a field day. Going into the matchup, Roethlisberger is impressed with Crosby, who formerly excelled in the same non-Power 5 conference that Roethlisberger did when he was drafted 11th overall by the Steelers in 2004 out of Miami (Ohio).

"Nothing surprises me because he's from the MAC and that's where the best football players come from," Roethlisberger said about the Eastern Michigan alum. "He's a stud."

In response to Roethlisberger's comments, Crosby was on the same page.

"He's a legend from the MAC and I definitely agree with him. The best players come from the MAC. Big shoutout to him."

Alex Leatherwood vs. T.J. Watt

In Alex Leatherwood's young NFL career, he's already been tested by some of the best the NFL has to offer.

He lined up against Aaron Donald in two joint practices with the Rams, had to handle the likes of Calais Campbell and Patrick Queen vs. the Ravens and now he has to worry about one of the best outside linebackers in the NFL -- T.J. Watt. Watt's older brother, J.J., has proven to be one of the best defensive players in NFL history and an elite pass rusher, and what's scary is that T.J. might be considered better than him when it's all said and done.

"He just doesn't stop. Just like his brother," said Derek Carr about T.J. "Those two guys, whenever you play them, you know you're in for a fight for the whole down and they're going to fight and claw and do whatever they can to get to you. Whether you hold it for one second or you hold it for eight, they are not going to stop...

"He's fun to watch from afar and I admire his game, but exciting challenge for us also to go against him. He got his new contract and deserves every penny. That's easy to see, but it's also fun to compete against the best."

In his four seasons in the NFL, No. 90 for the Steelers has already racked up three Pro Bowls, two All-Pro selections and lead the league in sacks (15) last season. He is also the reigning AFC Defensive Player of Year. For lack of better words, T.J. Watt is a damn beast.

Fortunately for the Raiders, they have a young beast on the other side of the ball in Leatherwood. The rookie – despite committing a couple penalties against the Ravens – played fairly well in his debut. However, he still has a lot to improve on going into his second NFL start, as he gave up two sacks for a 49.0 run-blocking grade by PFF Week 1.

"Playing that defense for really your first start ... like this is your moment going forward, and I was very proud," said Carr. "I think we could have had some better communication on some of the blitz pickups. They were able to get a couple of the free runners like they usually do, but that's the one thing I can't stand more than anything. I try and pick up every blitz and all those things. So, with our calls and our communication there was one or two we would like to have back and grow and learn from, which hopefully we did and hopefully we will.

"Very proud of those guys [Leatherwood and Andre James], but still, we're in the process of getting better and playing more games together."

Jon Gruden vs. Mike Tomlin

Both Jon Gruden and Mike Tomlin are football masterminds and two of the biggest motivators to coach this game. The two also have some pretty extensive history, and a Super Bowl ring together.

Tomlin was the defensive backs coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers under Gruden for four seasons and the dup won the Super Bowl together in the 2002 season. Since leaving the Buccaneers coaching staff, Tomlin has won another Super Bowl, won seven AFC North titles and has never had a losing season as a head coach. He attributes a lot of success to the guidance he was given under Gruden in their years in Tampa.

"Gru has no fear. He doesn't. He looks at an issue or a problem and sees it as an opportunity," Tomlin said during a press conference. "I worked for him for four years, man, you can't fake that. It's every day from him. I've probably always generally had that mentality, but he helped me hone it as a vocation, as a coach. His can-do approach, the positive energy that he consistently brings to whatever challenge that the job presents helped me, and helped me grow in a big way as a coach when I worked for him as a young guy."

Following their 33-27 victory over the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football, the Silver and Black hit the practice fields in Henderson, Nev., for a walkthrough in preparation for their Week 2 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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