Pregame Zone Blitz: Raiders Carry Old School Hot Streak Into Week 11

OAKLAND CA - SEPTEMBER 19: Darren McFadden #20 of the Oakland Raiders runs against the St. Louis Rams during an NFL game at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on September 19 2010 in Oakland California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

In a Week 10 beat-down at the hands of New England, Patriots QB Tom Brady got more camera time than the football did. The Steelers didn't really give NBC much of a choice. He completed passes at will, handing the Steelers a whipping they haven't seen in several years.

It's strange to say this, but the Raiders are among the hottest teams in football. Conversely to the Patriots, they don't have a quarterback who can abuse a secondary. They rely on a grind-it-out then explode running attack led by RB Darren McFadden.

It's an old-school approach, and one Pittsburgh can mirror. Can a new kicker, a fresh Hines Ward and a defense primed for a huge game be enough to stop Pittsburgh's old-school rival?

Opponent Web Sites/Forums

Noontide from Silver and Black Pride has an...interesting...perspective on game prediction. He has the Steelers winning pretty big, I think. Then he changes his mind. PZB doesn't understand most of it.

Noontide does reference limited workouts for CB Nnamdi Asomugha, TE Zack Miller and DT John Henderson on Wednesday, as reported by the Contra Costa Times.

Raiders QB Jason Campbell wasn't hurt when he hit the bench in favor of Steelers-killer Bruce Gradkowski, but he'll be back under center Sunday.

RB Darren McFadden is healthy, and the league's seventh-leading rusher. He thinks a win over the Steelers will prove to everyone Oakland is a "for real team."

Last Game

New England won the coin toss, and elected to kick the bejeezus out of the Steelers.

There was some questions as to why CB Willie Gay was selected as the Spotlight Player in PZB last week. Some took it as lavish praise being bestowed on Gay. Actually, it was because PZB knew Brady was going to isolate him on a TE, and he was going to throw until his arm fell off. Granted, PZB thought it'd be Aaron Hernandez, not Rob Gronkowski, but either way, Willie did what he could. Two of the three touchdown passes he surrendered were mirrors of perfection in terms of the throw.

That epitomized the game, and in many ways, the season league-wide. It seems like at least one team is going to go from goat to hero every week (Gronkowski had a critical fumble in New England's loss to Cleveland the previous week). The Patriots redeemed themselves in a huge way, and the Steelers fell to fading star status in a wide-open AFC race.

Pittsburgh's once dominant pass rush failed to put Brady on the ground, and the grass stains he had were only the result of a 3-yard TD run that essentially ended the game.

Without emotional leader Hines Ward, Pittsburgh's offense struggled mightily when the game was still in question, and the patchwork offensive line failed to stop the Patriots front seven.

It led many of us to think back to the last time the Steelers were dominated so brutally. Maybe it's better just not to think about the historical perspective. The question is, what are the Steelers going to do about it?

Harrison Holds: 1 Called - 1 Uncalled

The weekly tally of holds on All-World OLB James Harrison, both called and uncalled

Not Called:

  • 1. 11:54 remaining 4th quarter, TE Alge Crumpler grabs onto Harrison's left shoulder as RB BenJarvis Green-Ellis-Jarvis-Ben cuts back to Harrison's left. Crumpler's a savvy veteran and released before it was obvious, but Harrison could have made the play had he not been pulled away from the runner.

Called:

  • 1. 7:52 remaining in 3rd quarter, LT Matt Light has his right arm on Harrison's back and his left arm extends all the way across his chest. It's comical how Light complains after the flag is thrown, it was about as blatant as you're going to see.

Season Tally

Week 1 - 3 uncalled, 1 called

Week 2 - 1 uncalled, 0 called

Week 3 - 1 uncalled, 1 called

Week 4 - 0 uncalled, 1 called

Week 6 - 2 uncalled, 0 called

Week 7 - 0 uncalled, 1 called

Week 8 - 1 uncalled, 0 called

Week 9 - 2 uncalled, 1 called

Week 10 - 1 uncalled, 1 called

TOTAL - 11 uncalled, 6 called

Opponent Spotlight: RB Darren McFadden

It's been a while since anyone has game-planned around a highly drafted Oakland player. McFadden is breaking that assumption, and is doing it quite impressively.

While the Steelers have stuffed the run better than anyone else this year, they have not faced a multi-dimensional rushing attack like Oakland's, or a back as diverse as McFadden, since Tennessee in Week 2. In that game, the Steelers completely shut Chris Johnson down, but that was with a full compliment of defensive starters.

McFadden is the lead horse in a powerful running game that is producing 160 yards on the ground per contest. McFadden account's for the workman's share of that total, cranking out 108 yards rushing per game and 5.4 yards per carry, both are the highest in the league. McFadden adds 24 catches for another 242 yards on the season.

Simply put, the dude's a beast, and teams struggle to keep him contained. The Steelers will have their hands full all game.

McFadden runs his best to his left, off the tackle and the guard, and Oakland's game plan is going to be to get McFadden the ball away from NT Casey Hampton. But the Raiders do a great job in balancing the direction, which keeps defenses at bay. That helps create something of a guessing game on the defensive side of the ball; he can be on the field for three downs, and he can run with a fullback or split out wide pre-snap.

This Raiders team should in no way be underestimated, and while Pittsburgh will likely be able to hold McFadden below his 108 yard average, his impact could be enough for the Raiders to win for the fifth time in their last six games.

To counter that, the Steelers need to get back to what they do best. Stuff the run, force opponents into desperation, and capitalize on the low-percentage deep throws. They need to get old school, and get back to what has brought them glory in previous years.

 

2010 Pittsburgh Steelers "Return to Glory" (via theSteeler)

Steelers Spotlight: K Shaun Suisham

In a Week 11 showdown with rival Tennessee in 2002, Steelers K Todd Peterson missed two field goals from 30 and 36 yards. The Titans walked out with a 31-23 victory.

Peterson was cut the next day in favor of a rookie from North Carolina named Jeff Reed.

Only the hardest of die-hard fans can claim they'd ever heard of the short, stocky guy the Steelers brought in to wash away the sour taste Peterson's 12-for-21 kicking performance to date.

Peterson shouldn't have been surprised. He replaced Kris Brown the previous season, who had gone 30-for-44, including an appalling 6-for-15 from 40-49 yards.

Needless to say, kickers had difficulty adjusting to the winds at the newly minted Heinz Field. Enter Reed the rookie. Nothing seemed to faze him. He hit 17-of-19 down the stretch as the Steelers captured the first ever AFC North championship, and went 3-for-5 in the playoffs.

For the first time in a long time, the Steelers had a kicker.

Reed's tenure in Pittsburgh ended this week, and former Redskins kicker Shaun Suisham was signed to replace him. He comes in a cloud of negativity surrounding the position. While most people wanted to kill Reed after he missed a chip-shot field goal against the Patriots, it's important that Suisham pay attention to the fact Patriots K Shayne Graham missed an extra point on the same surface.

It's not an easy place to kick. But in a game that figures to be all about time of possession and field position, Suisham's adjustment to the field, both in field goal and kickoff situations, figures to be critical.

I See You

I see you, Hines Ward. The spirit of "I See You" isn't so much stats or obvious production on the field, but rather, commendation for the small things. In a game where neither the small things nor the big things were done well for the Steelers, we see you, Hines, because of the competitor you are. PZB has had concussions, even once responding with "Dan Quayle" when asked who the current president was. You picked up a concussion, but still had enough wit about you to tell the trainers you had a neck injury in efforts to avoid being put on the shelf for the rest of the game.

Your efforts went all for naught, with the exception of the appreciation we're giving you here. While in the long run, we're happy the medical staff is putting your health first, the fact you resorted to trickery to get yourself back on the field shows your dedication to the team, and to the game.

Even better, you didn't go back into the locker room and get into street clothes. You stayed on the field with your teammates, in full pads, until the bitter end of one of the worst games Pittsburgh has had in quite a while. You win as a team, you lose as a team, and you weren't going to let your injury stand in the way of you supporting your team.

All too often, football players who get hurt will make 100 percent certain everyone knows they're hurt. They limp around on the sideline, or take a long, leisurely walk back to the locker room in efforts to get every camera focused on him in a sympathetic manner.

Not you, Hines. We see you because you're a team guy. And an old school tough guy.  

Key Stats

  • The Steelers allowed 241 passing yards a game in their first three games. In their next six, they've allowed 281 yards per game.
  • The Steelers allowed an average of 11 points in their first three games (3-0). They allowed 21.5 over their next six games (3-3).
  • Six of the nine quarterbacks the Steelers have faced this year have passer ratings over 90 (Brady, Drew Brees, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, Josh Freeman and Vince Young).
  • Oakland (5-4) is 4-1 at home, and 1-3 on the road this season

Quick-Hitters

McFaddens Everywhere: Enough has been said about Darren...Steelers CB Bryant McFadden will be on the field for Pittsburgh. It remains to be seen whether his brother, Raiders rookie CB Walter McFadden, will be activated. He's been activated for three of the Raiders games this season after injuring his hamstring in a Week 3 loss at Arizona.

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