A closer look at the Oakland Raiders matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers

A closer look at the Oakland Raiders matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers with help from Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider.

Chris McClain: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is back and appeared healthy enough to play. What percentage do you think he is playing at? How limited has he been with that brace?

Jim Wexell: He's a natural born throw-on-the-move guy. It's been his trademark since he came out of Miami O. So this knee injury naturally limits him, physically for sure, but I also believe mentally. He abhors being confined. It changes his game. The Pittsburgh media last week ran all of the lousy stats he's had when coming off an injury layoff. And he lived up to those in his return vs. the Bengals. The scary thing for Steelers fans is that my colleague Dale Lolley reports Roethlisberger is 0-6 in his second games back. Now, understand that Roethlisberger is a freak of nature and is hard to drive out of action. It takes a very serious injury to knock him out, thus those serious injuries are responsible for the lousy stats upon his return. But I would put him at 65 percent last week. Probably get up to 75-80 percent for this one, and yes still wearing the brace.

CM: The Steelers just got Big Ben back but subsequently lost running back Le'Veon Bell to an MCL injury of his own. How will the Steelers replace his talent? Will DeAngelo Williams be able to handle the heavier workload or will they go to the pass more?

JW: Williams averaged 5.0 per carry in the first two games while Bell was suspensded. And he hit a big 55-yarder last week. They'll probably use more zone blocking, which they've wanted to do, but they won't, or shouldn't, throw to Williams as often as they did Bell. That's the big fall-off, that and now depth behind the starter is in question, for everyone wonders how long the 32-year-old Williams will be able to last.

CM: The Raiders struggle against the pass, ranking 29th in the NFL, and the Steelers have one of the most talented wide receivers in Antonio Brown. How should the Raiders secondary look to slow down Brown? Does he have any weaknesses?

JW: Not to diminish "AB" but if teams worry too much about him, Martavis Bryant will feast. Bryant is bigger and probably faster. Serious red-zone threat. The Bengals were able to double those guys once Bell left the game last Sunday. That's another difference between Bell and Williams. Heath Miller had a season-high 10 catches last week as the middle was open. But when Miller has big stats, the Steelers usually lose.

CM: It doesn't appear the Steelers have the stout defense that NFL fans are so accustomed to seeing in Pittsburgh. What has happened? Where are they lacking and where are they most vulnerable?

JW: What the Tomlin-haters in Pittsburgh -- and there are many -- don't understand is that this entire defense has been rebuilt on the fly. I'm actually surprised they're playing so well. They're probably half a season ahead of schedule, in my opinion. They should be healthy for the first time in a while with Stephon Tuitt back. He's been outstanding in tandem with the other DT, Cam Heyward, because they use so much nickel and go 4-3. Ryan Shazier, Mike Mitchell, Bud Dupree, Antwon Blake and Ross Cockrell have improved (or been added) and are contributing to the surprisingly well-played defense for the Steelers.

CM: How has the Steelers offensive line been? Second-year linebacker/defensive end Khalil Mack has been a force in the league and I'm sure the Raiders will look to pressure Big Ben to help alleviate the pressure on the secondary. Do you see a chance that Mack and Aldon Smith will be able to get to Big Ben on Sunday?

JW: They have a huge chance to alter this game. Maurkice Pouncey was lost in preseason. He's the center and captain. And then left tackle Kelvin Beachum went down a few weeks ago, replaced by war hero Alejandro Villanueva, whose massive and athletic but struggles with speed (don't we all?) Villanueva will have his hands full. The right side of David DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert has been rock solid.


SB Report Top Stories