A passing grade

Several teams have found that passing the ball against the Pittsburgh Steelers can lead to points. The key, however, is picking up the variety of blitzes that inevitably will come.

Once upon a time, the Raiders determined the best way to attack the 3-4 defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers was to abandon the run and control the ball with short passes on virtually every down.

In Week 2 of the 2002 season, coach Bill Callahan said all week the Raiders needed a strong running game to stay on the field with the Pittsburgh Steelers. That company line was obliterated by halftime of a 30-17 win, by which time the Raiders had called 42 pass plays in 47 snaps.

By game's end, Rich Gannon had completed 43 of 64 passes for 403 yards, the springboard for an MVP season and an AFC championship for the Raiders.

The system may have changed, and the Raiders are now one of the bottom-feeders in the NFL food chain, but coming up with a plan to deal with Pittsburgh's defense is as daunting as ever.

Second-year quarterback Andrew Walter, who had his coming out party by passing for 263 yards prior to midway in the third quarter when he left with a mild hamstring strain, is hoping the Raiders allow him to attack the Steelers.

"I like getting a lot of guys out into patterns," Walter said. "It's a little different concept to me how we did it earlier in the season, keeping our back in for protection. I like to get guys out -- as many as we can get out -- because there's more options to get them the ball. That's my particular style and what I like. We'll be able to do that more and more, hopefully, as the season progresses."

The Steelers are 2-4, but run a system similar to that of San Diego, which shut out Oakland 27-0 in the season opener. Walter relieved Aaron Brooks in the game, completing 2 of 5 passes for 28 yards.

Pittsburgh's front seven has the capability to approach the kind of pressure San Diego can put on a quarterback. Clark Haggans, the left outside linebacker, had a huge game against the Raiders in their last meeting in 2004, and Joey Porter, if healthy, is the sort of smallish rusher who could give left tackle Robert Gallery fits.

Walter concedes that his view of the opposing defense has more variables when it's a 3-4 alignment rather than a 4-3. In the latter, the blocking assignments of his linemen are clear. In a 3-4, it's done on the fly seconds before the snap.

"When you come up as a kid, everybody plays the 4-3," Walter said. "It's what you played against your whole life. You have to be aware of where the extra guy is. In the 3-4, they can disguise better. You have to watch a lot more film against a 3-4 then you do against the 4-3".

Walter is hoping the Raiders have enough faith in him to be a little more daring than they would have been a few weeks ago.

"I know they'll make us go back to some of the early rules we were using in the early part of the season versus the 3-4," Walter said. "We're playing at a decent level now. We want to continue to get better but we'll be able to do that."

Either Raiders coach Art Shell plans on playing it safe, or he's playing it like Callahan did and has a big surprise in store for the Steelers.

"When you prepare for a team, you've got to try to take a look at what they do with their schemes," Shell said. "You've got to be very careful with Pittsburgh, because they've got blitzes coming from all different directions. We've got to get in tune with what they do and whether we can afford to get as many people out (in patterns) as we'd like to.

"I've been watching San Diego vs. Pittsburgh, and I think Marty (Schottenheimer) knows (Pittsburgh coach) Bill Cowher as well as anybody. And they kept people in to block. You've got to pick your spots when you put people out."

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