Raiders Will Test Steelers In All Phases

Darren McFadden and the Oakland Raiders will be the first legitimate test this season against the Steelers' run defense without Aaron Smith.

PITTSBURGH – It was the game that was supposed to "unleash Hell" last season, but all the Steelers did against the visiting Oakland Raiders was unleash a lousy pass defense that surrendered three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter for a fourth consecutive loss.

In a season marked by poor pass defense and equally bad fourth quarters, the Steelers put them both together in that Oakland game.

The 5-4 Raiders are in town for a rematch this afternoon, and the 6-3 Steelers are still giving up passing yards and fourth-quarter points in bunches.

Yet, Raiders coach Tom Cable said the Steelers "have got their swagger back on defense."

This the week after Tom Brady threw for 350 yards in a 39-26 Patriots win.

"One game doesn't define you," Cable said. "If you look at the games prior to that, the full body of work, they are very good."

While the Steelers' pass defense has been an issue for some time, their run defense hasn't been tested by a legitimate running attack since left defensive end Aaron Smith was injured.

Since then, the Steelers held undrafted rookie Chris Ivory of New Orleans to 7 yards on 7 carries, then watched Cincinnati defer to Terrell Owens and a predominant 3-wide set instead of handing off to Cedric Benson. Last week, the Patriots also came out throwing, but BenJarvus Green-Ellis still managed 87 yards on 18 carries.

None of the aforementioned backs or schemes compare to what the Raiders are doing with Darren McFadden.

In their last three games, the Raiders have rolled up 679 yards rushing at a 5.8 average. McFadden has rushed for 365 yards in those three games at a 6.8 clip.

The Raiders are second in the NFL in rushing and McFadden, the 6-2, 210-pounder who was drafted fourth overall three years ago, is the NFL's No. 4 rusher with 757 yards (5.4).

"They have a horse back there," said Steelers linebacker James Farrior. "McFadden's running extremely well. He can run it inside, outside. He's got the speed to take it to the house from anywhere on the field. He's definitely a big threat."

And the Steelers, of course, remain vulnerable to the pass. While it was Bruce Gradkowski picking them apart last season, Al Davis brought in Jason Campbell as a free agent and the much-maligned former Redskin is beginning to play well for the Raiders.

"He could put the ball where it needed to be," said Steelers receiver Antwaan Randle El, a former teammate of Campbell's in Washington. "He didn't have all that he needed in terms of time. That was one of the biggest things, and being a quarterback everything falls on him. He tried to do too much and then he'd put himself in bad positions. But when we had opportunities, he put the ball where it needed to be."

Campbell has a season-long passer rating of 81.3, but in the last three games that passer rating has been 104.3.

He has a strong arm and speed at wide receiver. Darrius Heyward-Bey, overdrafted two years ago because of his sprinter's speed, is beginning to come on. He had 5 catches for 105 yards and a touchdown two games ago. On the other side is Louis Murphy, who caught touchdown passes of 75 and 11 yards last season to beat the Steelers. Campbell also has rookie sprinter Jacoby Ford in the slot, and his tight end, Zach Miller, leads the team with 34 catches, 461 yards and 4 touchdowns.

The Raiders' weakness is pass protection, particularly rookie left tackle Jared Veldheer. But the Steelers won't have an easy time either in blocking a Raiders front led by Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly. The Raiders are third in the NFL with 28 sacks.

"Those guys are good, man," said Steelers rookie center Maurkice Pouncey. "Richard Seymour and the other big guy they've got inside, they've got some good-ass players. We've got to have really good focus this week."

If the Steelers do get the pass off, they'll be throwing into tight man-to-man coverage led by All-Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.

Add it up and the Raiders have a chance to further a Steelers losing streak again at Heinz Field.

The difference, though, is the Steelers aren't making silly statements about "raising Hell" this time. They have more respect this season.

"You're talking about a team that's as hot as any team in football," said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. "They're 5-4 and stacked with talent as the Raiders always are. They're a big and fast outfit."


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