Pittsburgh Steelers: Old Rivals Butt Helmets Again


Week nine begins for the Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday as they face an old rival from the 1970’s, the Oakland Raiders. There might not be another “Immaculate Reception,” and the game won’t be played in Three Rivers Stadium, but there is certainly enough intrigue heading into this weekend’s showdown. Pittsburgh has their backs to the wall, and the Raiders are trying to stay hot.

Back in the early to mid 70’s, these two teams put on some classic battles, including that infamous 1972 game when Franco Harris made an incredible catch of a deflected ball that handed the Steelers their first-ever playoff victory. Easily the two best teams of that decade, it was a 10-year period that saw the Steelers capture four Super Bowls, and the Raiders one for themselves in 1976. That season, Oakland defeated the Steelers in the AFC title game in which both Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier were sidelined with injuries. That Pittsburgh team many believe was their best in history despite not winning a title.

For the record, these two teams have met 21 times and the Raiders have won 12 of those games. Pittsburgh has outscored Oakland 437-430 in those 21 contests and in the post-season, there have been six meetings. Each team has won three. The very first meeting came on October 25, 1970 in California, which resulted in a Raiders victory 31-14.

The last meeting was two years ago, almost to the date of that first meeting on October 27, 2013 and again Oakland prevailed, 21-18. That season, the Raiders won just four games, but one was the Pittsburgh game, a four quarter affair that saw Oakland nearly blow a 21-3 halftime lead. Pittsburgh finished that season 8-8 and heading into Sunday, this season sees the Raiders with more victories than they had in all of 2014 and equal to what they finished with a season before with nine more games to play.

When Oakland has the ball: The Raiders led by Derek Carr have been one of if not the most surprising team in the NFL this season. Look at the team total offense leaders and there is Oakland at number eight. They are ninth in rushing and in the same spot for passing. Latavius Murray leads the ground game with 534 yards total and a 4.6 per-carry average. But it’s Carr’s arm that is doing most of the damage. Carr is completing 65.5% of his passes and thrown 15 touchdown passes while getting picked just three times. Solid numbers.

Carr’s performance has been enhanced by some of the talent his front office brought in. Michael Crabtree has been reborn with Oakland after not reaching his peak with San Francisco. This season he has hauled in 40 passes for 483 yards. But the star on offense would have to be rookie Amari Cooper who is lighting it up with 38 receptions and 565 yards. Marcel Reece is another viable weapon and while this unit may not seem as dangerous as the Steelers’ “killer Bs,” they have surprised other teams thus far and certainly can’t be taken lightly.

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The Steelers defense has gotten better and once again they will be tested on Sunday. They should fare well against Oakland and if they replicate their performance against the Bengals, it will be the offense’s game to lose…again.

When the Steelers have the ball: Steelers Nation hopes that Ben Roethlisberger shook off the rust last weekend with his sub-par performance in losing to Cincinnati. Now, he must move forward without superstar Le’Veon Bell. DeAngelo Williams can do damage but Bell presented a running threat as well as a receiving weapon out of the backfield. There is no replacement for Le’Veon Bell. Will newcomer Isaiah Pead get any touches? Doubtful. The Steelers certainly won’t back down from their running attack because Bell is out. Williams has proved he can move the chains.

Pittsburgh must take advantage of a not very good Oakland defense, which is ranked 26th overall heading into week nine. It’s not Oakland’s rush defense that has them ranked so low, because they are yielding just 82.9 yards-per-game, second best in the league to the NFL leader, the New York Jets. It’s the passing defense that is nearly at the bottom of the NFL at #31 allowing opposing quarterbacks to throw for just over 300 yards each game on an average. That’s where Pittsburgh must focus their game plan. Throw the ball. Throw it often. Big Ben has so many weapons to put to use even without Le’Veon Bell and he and Todd Haley must capitalize on that pass defense.

On defense, Charles Woodson continues to play like he’s 25. Other than Woodson, Oakland’s defense is suspect. So again, this game is probably the offense’s to lose.

Intangibles:As it was last Sunday, the Steelers again have their backs pinned against the wall and every game from here on out should be looked at as a “must win.” Mike Tomlin should have his players believing that each game is a playoff game until the season ends. How prepared the Steelers appear on Sunday will be interesting after choking at home against the undefeated Bengals and now facing a team that has lost three of seven thus far. Much is riding on this game and in the Aronson household, where my beautiful wife will be watching the contest with me, there is much riding on the game as well. That’s because she is a diehard OAKLAND RAIDERS fan. We’ve been here before, two years ago in fact when the Steelers were upended by the Silver and Black. Hopefully this time it will be the Black and Gold who prevail.

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Prediction: As much as I love my wife, I’m sorry to say that I believe in my gut that Pittsburgh pulls this one out. However, they have dropped games before that they should win and on paper this is a victory. Nothing is certain in the NFL and it’s impossible to determine just how players will play or react on game day. With that said, Mike Tomlin’s team’s rarely lose two in a row and definitely not three which would be the case with a loss here. Steelers 34 Raiders 17.