Steelers' Game 12 Matchup: vs. Raiders
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When the Raiders have the ball: Since Bruce Gradkowski replaced JaMarcus Russell at quarterback, the Raiders have averaged 290 yards offense, including 182 passing. But they have not been able to get WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, their No. 1 draft pick, more involved. A favorite target is TE Zach Miller, who is fifth among AFC tight ends with 39 catches but third with 589 yards receiving. Typically, the offense revolves around the running game, which is split among three backs -- Justin Fargas (399 yards), Michael Bush and Darren McFadden (205). They have combined for 989 yards on 249 carries and five TDs. Bush is the only back to rush for more than 100 yards in a game, getting 119 on 14 carries vs. Kansas City. The Raiders' best weapon has been P Shane Lechler, a four-time All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection who averages a league-best 51.9 yards and is third in the AFC with 24 punts inside the 20.
Game: Steelers (6-5) vs. Oakland Raiders (3-8).
When: 1 p.m.
Where: Heinz Field.
Radio: WDVE-FM (102.5), WBGG-AM (970).
Skinny: While currently tied for the final AFC wild-card spot, the Steelers do not hold any of the tiebreakers.
When the Steelers have the ball: It remains to be seen if the offense will stick with its desire to run the ball, as it did in Baltimore when the Steelers rushed a season-high 38 times for 153 yards. But they might against the Raiders, who rank 31st in the NFL against the run, allowing an average of 161.1 yards per game. They have also allowed a league-high 15 runs of 20 yards or longer. The Jets rushed 54 times for 316 yards against them on Oct. 26. Rashard Mendenhall had 95 yards on 24 carries against the Ravens and is fourth in the AFC in yards per attempt (5.0). What's more, he has seven runs of 20 yards or longer. The Raiders generate their pressure with their defensive ends -- Greg Ellis, Richard Seymour and Trevor Scott -- who have accounted for 13 of their 24 sacks. They will try to pressure Ben Roethlisberger from the outside to keep him in the pocket.
CB Nnamdi Asomugha: On a team that has been among the worst in the National Football League, Asomugha has been perhaps their brightest star. A first-round pick in 2003, Asomugha has just three interceptions since having eight in the 2006 season, including one this season. But part of the reason is because teams have been shying away from throwing at him, even in single coverage. He was named All-Pro in 2008, even though he had just one interception and only 40 tackles.
The Oakland Raiders have lost four of their past five games overall and are 1-2 at Heinz Field. What's more, they are 1-4 on the road and have scored just 49 points in those five games. The Steelers have lost three in a row for the first time under Mike Tomlin, but they are 4-1 at home. They have lost five games this season by a total of 18 points, an average of 3.6 points.
1. Get Bruce on the loose. The last time Gradkowski played at Heinz Field, he had a Blutarski-esque passer rating of 1.0.
2. Get Zach on a back. Miller averages 14.6 yards a catch and is one of those rare tight ends who can stretch the field and make big plays.
3. Not let Rashard run hard. Their run defense, which ranks near the bottom of the league, has to prevent long runs by Mendenhall.
1. Not be faders with the Raiders. The inability of the No. 1-ranked defense to protect fourth-quarter leads in four of five losses has been surprising.
2. See less of Seymour. Particularly in the backfield, where the former Patriots defensive end likes to disrupt plays and collapse the pocket.
3. Keep Darrius at bay. Heyward-Bey has the speed to make plays over the top against a secondary that has been yielding big plays.
First Published December 6, 2009 12:00 am