PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 19: Mark Sanchez #6 of the New York Jets is rushed by LaMarr Woodley #56 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the game on December 19 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
I promise to avoid being Simms-ian with these, meaning we're going to dig a little deeper than "Score more points than their opponent," and "Don't let them score."
After reviewing both Pittsburgh's and Oakland's first two games, it's clear the Steelers are the better team. They're three-point road favorites for a reason. The Raiders are further hindered by a depleted secondary that's going against the best group of receivers it has seen so far, and maybe for the whole year.
That being said, a huge chunk of this game rests in the hands of Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger.
The Uncle Bruce days of stubbornly hanging hope on the deep pass may be gone, but Roethlisberger would be as tempted as ever to launch a few in this one.
The key in this one, though, isn't for Roethlisberger to avoid them; it's to complete them.
It's silly to avoid exploiting the weakness of an opponent for some kind of perceived greater good. Ben can throw the ball on this team, provided he maintains discipline and doesn't force it. If he takes each throw for just that, knowing he'll have another one after it, he will have success.
The Steelers receivers are too talented, and Oakland's secondary is too undermanned.
Look for Roethlisberger to aim deep at least once within the first two series. Connecting with one will shut the crowd up and give his team momentum.
Feeding off that momentum will be outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who may not have more of a chance to blow a game up than he has in this one. RT Kalif Barnes is not going to be able to stop him through four quarters. Woodley needs to wear him down, and rely on his combination of size, strength and speed to make Barnes suck air in the second half, leading to Woodley's destruction of cement-footed QB Carson Palmer.
These two things will play together. If Roethlisberger is able to get the Steelers to a good lead in the second half, forcing Palmer to throw often like he did against Miami, Woodley can tee off. The Raiders didn't vary their snap count (Woodley's done a great job in two games anticipating that count), and they dropped him to the same spot consistently, giving Woodley a nice target to aim for on each snap.
That will work well in the Steelers' favor.