4. Stopping Ben Roethlisberger
The emergence of rookie RB Le’Veon Bell has been nice, but the Pittsburgh Steelers passing attack is the most dangerous thing about this team. They have an elite quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, an elite wide receiver in Antonio Brown who is playing at the top of his game, a talented No. 2 option in Emmanuel Sanders, and a solid TE and red zone threat in Heath Miller. Big Ben is completing 66.5% of his passes this season with a QB Rating just over 90, and he’s done it behind another bad offensive line. The interception rates will continue to fall as the season presses on, and a key stat is the fact that Roethlisberger is averaging 7.7 yards per attempt.
While the Raiders pass defense is horrendous, I would put it in the below-average category, and they could be in a rough day if they can’t contain Antonio Brown, who has a beastly 548 receiving yards this season. I have full faith in the work Charles Woodson is putting in at safety, but the cornerbacks are an issue. Those guys need to do a better job of covering, because the safeties are keeping this Raiders pass defense from imploding. D.J. Hayden will certainly get better as the year goes on, but he isn’t someone who can be relied upon yet. Mike Jenkins continues to be a liability in coverage, and Tracy Porter is a bit up-and-down (I did think he played very well against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 6).
There isn’t a corner on this roster who can stop Brown, so they will need to rely heavily on the safeties in coverage in this game. Coverage outside of the numbers is a weakness for the Raiders, and they had better hope that Roethlisberger, Sanders, and Brown don’t start getting into a rhythm early. The way to do this is by using Woodson to bracket Brown but making sure to keep the strong safety in coverage in intermediate routes; it’s critical for the Raiders to contain the middle of the field too.
5. A way to use Jacoby Ford?
I usually like to dedicate one fade route to a creative/stupid idea that I have, because it’s fun to shoot the breeze and throw ideas out there. We haven’t seen much of Jacoby Ford this season, and that has left many wondering if Ford’s days in Oakland will come to a close soon. I found it interesting that the Raiders played the speed demon out of Clemson in the slot in Week 6 against the Chiefs, because I think it would make sense to utilize him in the slot this week against the Steelers. The result will probably be nothing, but I want to see him stretch the field from the slot.
Cortez Allen seems a bit vulnerable to deep throws; Terrelle Pryor has an excellent deep ball and Jacoby Ford is obviously very fast. I know that playing Ford in the slot is hardly an original idea, since he spent some time there in his first two seasons (particularly in 2011). However, Week 6 marked the first time all season in which Ford was primarily used in the slot, and they can really take advantage of his speed against this Steelers defense. Stretching the seam is something that can be incredibly productive if executed effectively. At this stage, it’s best to play Ford in the slot where he can have the most success, and it’s a way the Raiders can create a matchup. Allen and Greg Olson need to think outside of the box against quality opponents like the Steelers, and even a slight uptick in offensive efficiency created by a good, manufactured match-up helps. There could certainly be better ways to create mis-matches against the Steelers, but I think putting Ford on Allen is an interesting possibility that could work to a great effect. I also hate seeing someone as fast and intriguing as Ford struggle like he has this season.