Steelers notebook: Big Ben's last showing vs. Raiders will be tough to top

STEELERS NOTEBOOK


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It's not referenced often because the Steelers lost the game, but Ben Roethlisberger had one of the best games of his career last season in Oakland when he threw for a season-high 384 yards and four touchdowns in a 34-31 loss to the Raiders.

The 384 yards were the seventh most in Roethlisberger's career and the ninth most in franchise history. He did it against a Raiders defense that was susceptible to the pass and finished the season 20th in the NFL in pass defense.

A repeat performance Sunday when the Steelers again travel to Oakland might be tougher to duplicate for Roethlisberger. The Raiders brought in veteran defensive backs Charles Woodson and Tracy Porter to stabilize the secondary and there are signs of improvement. Most notably, their ability to provide big plays is something the Steelers are guarding against as they prepare for the game.

Woodson, in his 16th season in the NFL, tied a league record with his 13th defensive touchdown earlier this month in a game against San Diego. Woodson tied former Steelers cornerback and Hall of Famer Rod Woodson and Darren Sharper in the record books.

"He's the leader of the group, the true veteran of the group," Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. "You don't see any fall-off in him. He's a legend. You have to believe he'll end up in Canton. He's one of those guys I describe as the ball just kind of comes to him. If you have a chance to ever get your hands on one of those types of defensive players, you try to get them on your team. When he gets it, he does some spectacular things a lot of the times. We have to not allow that to happen."

Woodson is in his first season back in Oakland, the team that drafted him, after seven seasons in Green Bay. Porter has three career defensive touchdowns, including one last season against the Steelers when he returned a Roethlisberger interception 43 yards for a touchdown in the season opener at Denver. Porter also returned a Peyton Manning interception for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLIV.

"They love their dime package," receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. "They take pride in stopping receivers. They played a lot versus Denver and Indianapolis. We have to be prepared for that."

Sanders wants more

Sanders lobbied coach Mike Tomlin for the opportunity to return kickoffs about a month ago and Tomlin finally took Sanders up on his offer late in the Ravens game last week. Sanders' 44-yard return to the 37 after the Ravens tied the score was the longest of the season for the Steelers, and Sanders is open to more chances in the kicking game.

Kickoff returners are susceptible to injuries because of the violent collisions that happen on returns, and Sanders acknowledged his injury history might play a part in Tomlin's decision this week and in future weeks.

"Me personally, I don't worry about injuries because I'm that kind of player," Sanders said. "I just like to play football. If he told me, 'I want you to play defensive back or offensive tackle,' I'll be ready to go because I like to play this game.

"Of course, Mike Tomlin knows that about me. He knows I have a motor. I'm not one of those guys that's lazy. I actually do way too much. That's been my problem in previous years, and that's why I end up getting hurt. He's just trying to control me and make sure I make it 16 games."

Injury report

The only player who did not participate fully in practice Thursday was receiver Markus Wheaton, who has already been ruled out for Sunday's game. Left tackle Kelvin Beachum (ribs), receiver Jerricho Cothery (abdomen), right tackle Marcus Gilbert (quad), tight end Richard Gordon (toe), defensive end Cameron Heyward (illness), linebacker Jarvis Jones (concussion), defensive end Brett Keisel (ribs), tight end Heath Miller (not injury related), linebacker Lawrence Timmons (hand) and linebacker LaMarr Woodley (knee) all went through a full practice. Beachum, Gilbert, Gordon, Keisel and Miller were limited Wednesday.


Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter @rayfitt1.

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