The Pittsburgh Steelers need to get a win on Sunday as another contender for an AFC wild card contender, the Oakland Raiders, will be in town. There are a lot of key things to look at in this matchup, and it has the potential to be a nail biter.
First, there is the matchup of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and the rest of the Pittsburgh receiving corps, against Oakland's poor secondary. Roethlisberger made his return from injury last week against the Cincinnati Bengals, and he did not look good by any stretch of the imagination. Big Ben was not only making bad decisions, he was making bad throws, both of which are very uncharacteristic of the lifetime Steeler. Another lifetime Steeler, Heath Miller, had a great game last week, as he played a big role in the offense for the first time this season. Between Brown, Miller, Roethlisberger and Martavis Bryant, the Steelers' pass offense should be back to its normal, elite self.
It's not easy to say the same for Pittsburgh's rushing attack. Their star running back, perhaps the best in the NFL, Le'Veon Bell will not play at all for the remainder of the season due to a torn MCL. Sure, backup DeAngelo Williams is a very good running back, but it's just not really possible to replace a back like Bell. Just about every Steelers offensive lineman has been doing good this year (minus Cody Wallace), even though the unit is without their best two players. Though the offensive line has been solid, the Raider's front seven might be better, as they are second in the league in rushing yards allowed per game. The passing offense might have to carry the load this time around.
Defensively, the Steelers should be just fine when it comes to the Raiders' rushing attack. Pro Football Focus ranks Oakland's offensive line as the 14th best in the league when it comes to run blocking. Not bad, but the Steelers front seven has been even better this season, as they are eighth in the league in rushing yards allowed per game. What is even more noteworthy is that the team will finally get stud defensive end Stephon Tuitt back from a knee injury. Tuitt has been a beast this year, so his presence should help the front seven a lot.
Just like Oakland with Pittsburgh's offense, the Steelers might struggle to stop the Raiders aerial attack. Derek Carr is having a solid year so far, thanks in large part to his stud rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper. The Steelers might not have anyone in the secondary who is capable of sticking with Cooper, and we could see him put up over 100 yards. To counter that, the front seven will have to do a good job of pressuring the quarterback. That might be difficult, as PFF ranks the Raiders' offensive line second in the league when it comes to pass protection. If Pittsburgh can get quarterback pressure, or force a turnover or two, the defense will definitely be good enough to help the team come out on top.
Pittsburgh is the favorite to win this game, but it truly could go either way. If Big Ben can return to the way he was before his injury, the Steelers should have no problem coming out on top. But, if he struggles like he did last week and gives the Raiders good field position off of turnovers, Carr and the rest of Oakland's young talent could make this one a barn burner.