The final quarter of the 2018 regular season kicks off Sunday afternoon for the Oakland Raiders when they welcome Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers to the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
While the Silver and Black can now just play the role of spoiler, the Steelers are still very much in the hunt in the AFC North, and after dropping back-to-back games, they need a win in a big way to fend off the surging Baltimore Ravens.
These two historical franchises don’t tango much – they last met in 2015 – but when they do, fireworks tend to follow.
Kickoff is scheduled for 1:25 pm; here are six things to watch once the action gets underway.
1. Can the Raiders protect Derek Carr?
The Steelers get after the quarterback, that’s just kind of their deal.
With 41 sacks at the moment, Pittsburgh leads the league in that metric, and with 10 sacks to his name, T.J. Watt has as many sacks as the entire Raiders defense.
D.C. was taken down behind the line of scrimmage three times in last week’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, but outside of those three instances, the Raiders offensive line actually did a really nice job of giving him time to operate, and it showed.
No quarterback likes to work under constant duress, and when he’s had the time to sit back in the pocket, Carr has been really effective.
Stopping this exotic Pittsburgh pass rush is no easy task, but keeping them at bay would go a long way in helping the Silver and Black notch their third win of 2018.
2. Since we’re talking about Derek…
Can the Raiders starting quarterback keep the positive momentum from last week’s effort rolling?
Yes, I know that the Silver and Black ultimately fell to the Chiefs – we still deal in wins and losses around here –but even in a losing effort, I think last week’s game might have been Carr’s best of 2018.
All told, No. 4 completed 29 of 38 passes for 285 yards and three touchdowns, and looked to be very much in control of the Raiders offense.
Now, no offense to the Chiefs, but the Steelers defense is a completely different beast than they are, but all the same, I’m excited to see how Derek responds to the challenge that is Week 14.
I know that the Raiders don’t have much to play for – as far as the record is concerned – down the stretch, but a good month of quality, dynamic play from Carr would be a welcome sight headed into the offseason.
3. Keep business from boomin’
Alright, I’ll say it because we’re all thinking it – Antonio Brown is a beast.
Since he entered the league, AB has been that dude, and it seems like week in and week out we see No. 84 on some sort of highlight reel.
Entering Week 14, Brown has 81 receptions, has already eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark receiving and his 12 receiving touchdowns are tops in the NFL – so yeah, the Raiders defensive backs will have their hands full.
Now, to be fair, Gareon Conley, Daryl Worley and Co., are coming off an impressive performance last weekend where they limited Tyreek Hill to just a single catch.
Let’s not forget about JuJu Smith-Schuster, but we all know that Antonio Brown is just a different kind of player; keep an eye on how Paul Guenther attempts to neutralize him.
4. Make the Steelers one-dimensional
The Steelers boast one of the top offenses in the NFL – they rank fourth overall for those of you keeping track at home – but if they have one weakness, it’s running the ball consistently, and that was with James Conner in the mix.
The versatile second-year back won’t be on the field Sunday as he deals with an injury, meaning that Jaylen Samuels will be guy who gets the call against the Silver and Black.
The rookie has just 12 carries this year, so if the Raiders defense is able to figure out a way to keep him in check, it would in essence make the Pittsburgh offense one-dimensional.
And while that dimension is a pretty good one, a one-dimensional offense is a vulnerable one.
Through the Years: Raiders vs. Steelers
Photos of past matchups between the Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers. The Raiders' last meeting with Pittsburgh was in Week 9 of the 2015 season.
5. Do we see C.J. Anderson?
The Raiders signed the Northern California-native earlier this week, but it remains to be seen whether or not No. 35 actually gets any type of significant run.
Head Coach Jon Gruden alluded Friday that Doug Martin isn’t quite 100 percent, so if for whatever reason he’s unable to go, I would expect that we see our fair share of Mr. Anderson.
While his brief stint in Carolina likely didn’t go as planned, make no mistake about it, the former Cal Bear has been a productive back since entering the league.
And if he does play Sunday, for a guy who grew up just up the road in Vallejo, it’ll unquestionably be a really cool moment.
6. Keep crushing it, Daniel Carlson
The Raiders rookie kicker has been outstanding since putting on the Silver and Black.
He’s only missed one kick, and he’s been perfect for the past month, but not only that, he’s provided some much needed-consistency on the special teams unit.
Against a good team like the Steelers, points are going to be a premium, so if the Raiders want to hang tough with Pittsburgh, they’ll need all the points they can get.
Carlson has been money as of late; hopefully he can keep it up.