- Paul Gutierrez, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Raiders (2-4) are coming off a much-needed bye week in which they were able to address their numerous injuries, while the Steelers (2-4) seem to have righted their ship with two straight wins after an 0-4 start.
ESPN.com Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez and Steelers reporter Scott Brown break down the matchup:
Gutierrez: Hey, Scott, there are several obvious storylines between these two old rivals -- the Immaculate DE-ception, as it's called in the streets of Silver and Blackdom, the Criminal Element, as Chuck Noll put it to George Atkinson and the Soul Patrol, the Raiders beating Cliff Stoudt to send Terry Bradshaw into retirement, etc. But now there seems to be another focal point rising: the emergence of Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor, a Steel City kid who grew up in nearby Jeannette and is a huge fan of the Steelers. He told me he was a big fan of Ben Roethlisberger and would have to tuck away his boyhood fandom feelings when facing the Steelers. So my question is this -- while we know Pryor is seen as a sort of tainted figure in Columbus, Ohio, how is he perceived in Pittsburgh? Remember, he initially committed to play college hoops at Pitt for Jamie Dixon.
Brown: Wow, that seems like ages ago that Pryor was a Pitt basketball recruit, but he sure could play. His basketball and football exploits at Jeannette make Pryor one of the greatest athletes ever to come out of Western Pennsylvania. There are still a ton of people here rooting for him -- in almost every other game. Pryor's ties to the Steelers go beyond cheering for Roethlisberger. Pryor's mentor in high school was Roethlisberger's longtime backup, Charlie Batch, and the Steelers gave Pryor a look before the 2011 supplemental draft.
Pryor represents a completely different challenge than Baltimore's Joe Flacco -- whom the Steelers faced last weekend -- because of his athleticism. Pryor certainly isn't the passer Flacco is, but his running ability will tax the Steelers' defense like no quarterback they faced to this point. Pryor seems to be going through the normal ups and downs for a first-year starter at quarterback, and that leads me to two questions: Have the Raiders finally found a quarterback to build around, and what does Pryor need to do to beat the Steelers?
Gutierrez: I've said it before and I'll say it again: If Pryor is not Mr. Right for the Raiders, he is most definitely Mr. Right Now. The Raiders have gone all-in with the man fans call TP2 -- even changing the offense to become more of a zone-read scheme to take advantage of his skill set. Quarterback coach John DeFilippo told me he actually wants Pryor to run more to take advantage of his natural gifts. And yet, there is no doubt the Raiders would love to have the prototypical pocket passer going forward. Pryor, it should be noted, is working hard to become that quarterback, which is one of the reasons he's been working with quarterback guru Tom House on his passing mechanics. If Pryor becomes a quarterback who can run, rather than a running quarterback who can pass, then yes, Pryor is the man for the Raiders going forward. To beat the Steelers, Pryor has to keep their defense off balance, and not get rattled like he did in Kansas City. Then again, much of that was because of his offensive line getting liquefied.
As such, it seems the Steelers have found themselves and gotten their legs under themselves with two straight wins. They get their groove back, or is it a lot of fool's gold?
Brown: It is fool's gold if they don't find a way to solve the Raiders in Oakland. When the Steelers have been good they have always found a way to win games such as this one. That's not taking anything away from the Raiders, either. I think their defense has played well, Pryor has a ton of promise and the Coliseum is a tough place to visit. But the Steelers should have the clear edge in quarterback, and a veteran defense should be able to contain Pryor and force the first-year starter into a turnover or two. The Steelers have won their last two games because they have been able to run the ball, stay away from turnovers and not lean too heavily on Roethlisberger. Defensively, they have not given up the big play and have forced teams to kick field goals after they have driven into Steelers territory. I need to see the Steelers employ that same formula for another week before I am ready to say they have found their groove. The Raiders have been coming up with their share of takeaways, and my question is: Why have they been so successful in generating turnovers? Do they need to win the turnover battle by a decisive margin to beat the Steelers?
Gutierrez: To quote Blackstreet, no diggity, no doubt (I know that's No. 1 on your iPod, right?). Here's the funny thing about the Raiders and takeaways -- they did not have a single interception until Week 5, against San Diego, when they picked off Philip Rivers three times. Oakland has not had one since (granted it has played only one game since, at Kansas City, and then enjoyed the bye). In fact, the Raiders have a turnover differential of zero, with nine takeaways and nine turnovers. Even coach Dennis Allen stressed this week to the media that the turnover battle was going to be huge. And really, it always is. But when you have little depth and are one injury away from catastrophe on the offensive line, turnovers can be that proverbial straw.
Speaking of which, the relationship between Roethlisberger and Todd Haley seemed to teeter on the brink last year. Now, in their second year working together, have quarterback and offensive coordinator found common ground?
Brown: I'm not ready to say the two are golfing buddies yet, even though they would make a heck of a team in a better-ball event. But there appears to be a whole lot more trust and give and take between the two this year. Roethlisberger talked about it earlier this week when he successfully lobbied for the shovel pass that the Steelers installed for the Ravens game to go to tight end Heath Miller instead of a wide receiver. He said Haley has been receptive to those kinds of “tweaks,” as Roethlisberger has been when Haley has wanted to make a change to a play. The best thing for their working relationship is if the Steelers continue to win, and I think we're finally seeing what Haley can do when he doesn't have one arm tied behind his back as a playcaller. That was the case at the beginning of the season because of injuries. Darren McFadden had a big game against the Steelers last year. Does he have another one in him or do the Raiders have too many issues up front to run the ball effectively against the Steelers?
Gutierrez: Here's the thing about McFadden: He still has home run potential, but there are far too many O-fers mixed in there. Yes, he had a big day against the Steelers last year, rushing for 113 yards on 18 carries. But 64 of those yards came on one run, a play then-quarterback Carson Palmer audibled into and McFadden did not realize, and if you take out that one run, his career-low 3.3 yards per carry for the entire 2012 season drops to 2.9 yards. It's the same this season as 108 of his 267 rushing yards have come on four long runs against Jacksonville. Remove those bursts, and he's averaging 2.4 yards per carry. Unfair? Maybe. Small sample size? Yup. But you can make numbers do whatever you want, and with McFadden, who is in a contract year, he needs to be put in space to make plays. It's really that simple. A beat-up O-line is not going to help him, either.
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