The Oakland Raiders host the Pittsburgh Steelers at O.co Coliseum this Sunday in Week 8 action. The Silver and Black return to the field after a bye week to face their longtime rivals who are coming off of two-straight wins.
The Raiders have faced the Steelers 20 times in the regular season and six times in the playoffs. Oakland leads the regular season series 11-9 and is tied 3-3 in the postseason. Some of the match-ups include historical moments like the 1976 AFC Championship, the 1983 AFC Divisional Playoffs, the Immaculate Reception, a 1980 Monday Night thriller and more.
This will be the Raiders fourth meeting with the Steelers in the last five years, having claimed a "W" in 2009 and 2012. Now, the two squads enter Week 8 with 2-4 records as they continue the storied rivalry.
"I think it's a great rivalry, great tradition in this game and our guys are looking forward to taking part in it," said Head Coach Dennis Allen.
Coach Allen has seen improvements from the Steelers which have helped them beat the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens. "I think as a team they've played better football," said Coach Allen on Pittsburgh. "They've put an emphasis on the run game, offensively, which has kept them on the field a little bit longer. They've controlled the time of possession and they've protected the football. Then their defense has done a great job of keeping the ball in front of them and not giving up the explosive plays. When teams have gotten down to the red zone, they've done a great job of making them have to kick field goals. This is a good football team that we're playing, make no mistake about it. They understand how to win. They know what the formula is to win in this league and they've done a really good job of it the last couple of weeks."
Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin spoke about the match-up issues he expects to see when his team faces Oakland this week. "Obviously they're a group that provides some concern for us for a lot of reasons, starting with on offense. They've got a quarterback that can create," said Coach Tomlin. "He's really doing a nice job of staying within himself. His number one target is Moore, a young talented wideout out of Tennessee."
Coach Tomlin focused on the versatility of players like FB Marcel Reece. "They've got some unique, multi-talented, big athletic bodies, whether it's Reece, a rookie from Tennessee Rivera, their fullbacks, their tight ends…shoot, Reece has even run the ball some," said Coach Tomlin. "These guys can carry it, they can run, they can block; they're match-up problems. I think Reece was a former wideout at University of Washington so he has that type of skill-set and couple that with the fact that he's 250 pounds and he can run."
The Steelers will deploy their sixth-ranked defense led by defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, in his 10th straight season at that position, to combat the Raiders offense.
"They've played really well on defense. Obviously LaMarr Woodley is one guy that has had some success in getting to the quarterback, so again, we'll have to do a great job in protection and giving Terrelle [Pryor] some time to throw the football," said Coach Allen. "Then we're going to have to do a good job executing in the passing game. They play a good brand of football. They play a tough physical brand of football in all three phases, and we're going to have to be able to match that."
Raiders Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson knows the Steelers defense will be well prepared. "They're very well-coached," said Coach Olson. "They've had continuity there, personnel-wise. They're a solid group. I said it last week, we thought we were playing the top front-seven group that we had faced this season and there is not much difference really, in our opinion as a staff, watching these guys and how they play up front and at the linebacker position. Coupled with the scheme that Dick LeBeau runs, they're a difficult team to prepare for. A solid group of players."
The Steelers defense is a mix of veterans and rookies, all of whom are making an impact. "Historically, they've been great. They play well together. Dick LeBeau has been there a long time. He's got those guys…every year they're a Top 10 defense," said T Khalif Barnes. "[Brett] Keisel has been doing this a long time, about 11 or 12 years now, and they just play well together. Woodley is a good rusher off the edge, smart player, knows how to get to the quarterback, knows how to use the tackles against them. And they have some young kids that are playing too. Jarvis Jones has some juice out there. He's a good pick for them out there and Lawrence Timmons, he's a good one too that they've been playing for a long time under Dick LeBeau. So we're going to have our hands full with them."
TE Mychal Rivera has experience playing against Jones, who played at the University of Georgia, from his time at Tennessee. "He's another guy that's a really skilled player. He comes a lot on the edge and I'll just have to use the techniques I used at Tennessee to continue to block him at the next level," Rivera said.
All offensive eyes will be keyed in on veteran safety Troy Polamalu throughout the game. "I just have to be ready to hold the snap. He's like Tarzan, jumping all over the place," said QB Terrelle Pryor. "The guys are going to be on him. 'D-Mac' [Darren McFadden] is going to be scanning, keying him and the fullbacks are going to be scanning, keying him. I know guys are going to be on him. I do need to hold the cadence and just go play ball."
Barnes knows the offense will at least be able to locate him by his hair. "He's not going to be hard to miss. You see the hair out there and you're going to know where he's at," said Barnes. "You just have to account for him. He's a good player, he's been doing this for a long time too, and you have to account for that guy every time you take a snap. We'll have eyes on him. We'll be watching him."
The Steelers also have 11-year veteran CB Ike Taylor in the secondary. "Big and fast. He's really physical on the line of scrimmage," said Coach Allen. "He does a great job of getting his hands on guys. He's really good in press coverage and there's not a lot of big window throws when you're throwing against him. Everything is pretty tight coverage. He's been a good player in this league for a long time and he's still playing at a high level."
The Raiders wide receivers will have their hands full matching up with the Steelers secondary, but the Pittsburgh defense will have to contend with RB Darren McFadden who ran for 113 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown, last year against its defense. "McFadden is a quality runner. He ran the scoreboard up on us on a long run last year," said Coach Tomlin. "We know what he's capable of. We've got to be prepared and understand that every time the ball's snapped, he's capable of going yard; he has that type of talent, vision and long speed. He's a quality player."
The Steelers offense has many quality players. They are led by veteran QB Ben Roethlisberger who, despite taking the loss in Oakland in 2012, threw for 384 yards and 4 touchdowns. "He's a guy who's won two Super Bowls so he has the experience," said CB Tracy Porter. "He's a guy who can make plays with his feet. He definitely has the arm, so he's going to be tough on the secondary to stay close in our coverage. We can't just play the route through the first break. We have to stay tight on these receivers because he's a quarterback that likes to scramble and these receivers, it almost looks like they have a scramble pattern and they know that once he escapes the pocket they know where to go to find open holes. It's going to be tough on us to stay close to those guys the whole game."
Roethlisberger, at 6'5" and 241 pounds, is a tough quarterback to tackle. "It's challenging because when you think you've got him down, he's not going down," said DE Lamarr Houston. "He can break tackles unlike most quarterbacks and the best thing he does is scramble and extend plays with his feet. That's what helps him from being big and athletic."
Defensive Coordinator Jason Tarver wants his defense to approach Roethlisberger like he won't go down. "He's not down if somebody's hanging on him because he's so strong," said Coach Tarver. "You have to keep taking your shots and keep on scratching and fighting because that's what he does. If he does get out or do something, get the guy to the ground and go to the next play. You guys hear that from me a lot, but that's how you have to play him. You can't get that in your head. Just keep activating guys and getting on him. Keep jumping on him."
Roethlisberger's ability to extend plays, in addition to the offensive weapons around him, makes the Steelers offense dangerous. Le'Veon Bell, Felix Jones and Jonathan Dwyer are powerful backs. "These guys are tough downhill runners. They're bigger backs," said Houston. "That's what Pittsburgh is known for is tough football, running football, and that's what they've gotten back to and they've won the last two games, so it's very important that we stop the run this week."
The wide receivers are experienced. "[Jerricho] Cotchery is a tough guy playing in the slot. He's definitely one of their more physical receivers who really can run routes as well as block when the run shows up," explained Porter. "[Emmanuel] Sanders and [Antonio] Brown, those guys, they're speedy guys that can make plays happen when the ball is in their hands. It's going to be up to us to get our hands on those guys and stay tight in coverage on those guys and make sure they don't get the big play they want over the top."
The Steelers also have TE Heath Miller who has played with Roethlisberger since 2005. "They have a chemistry. He's coming off an injury from last year, but they still have that chemistry," said Porter. "Ben knows where he's going to be; he knows where to put the ball where he can get the ball. That's another tough test that they bring to the receiving corps. We have confidence in our guys, our safeties and our corners, that if we end up matched up on him that we can cover these guys. It's going to be a battle and it's going to be who can execute for 60 minutes."
Pittsburgh will be challenged to prepare for the Raiders defense as Oakland only has one starter on film from last year. "You see a lot of difference. You watch last year's film and you don't see anybody," said Roethlisberger. "It's a good defense. They like to show a lot of different looks. High motors, that's the biggest thing you see. You see high energy, high motor, very aware. Obviously [Charles] Woodson is getting a lot of turnovers. That defense is getting turnovers in general."
"Defensively, I really think they're coming into their own collectively under their defensive coordinator Coach Tarver. They have a multitude of things to prepare for," said Coach Tomlin. "You have a lot of work to do in terms of sorting it out as the ball gets snapped, particularly if you're working in the gun and you have to locate the ball and deal with silent counts and things of that nature. There's a multitude of players that are registering sacks, linemen, linebackers, secondary. They've had a number of interceptions that you can describe in the same way."
Coach Tomlin focused on Houston on the Raiders defensive line. "Up front, Houston is their guy. He's a quality player. He's got a hot motor. He's very physical, very strong. We have our hands full from a tackle standpoint getting him blocked and obviously the people we choose to employ schematically to handle those guys," said Coach Tomlin."
He also noted the Raiders improving secondary. "I think the interesting story about these guys is the secondary acquisitions, starting with Woodson. He's a legendary player, a Hall of Fame-caliber player. He's already been an AFC Defensive Player of the Week once this year. He's playing free safety. He's a ball hawk, he's physical, he blitzes, he covers well. Tracy Porter is a great coverage man outside at the cornerback spot and a savvy defender inside as well in the nickel. They also picked up Mike Jenkins, a top quality veteran corner from Dallas. They can stay close to people and they're good at it."
Each team will be challenged this Sunday at O.co Coliseum in front of a sold-out crowd.
"It's a great place to play. The fans are awesome," said Roethlisberger. "There is so much tradition and history there that you enjoy going to places like that because you think of all the greats that have played there before you."
Houston and his teammates are fresh off the bye week and ready to showcase Raider football in front of Raider Nation. "Always looking forward to playing in front of Raider Nation," said Houston.