Last year, after losing to Jacksonville, the Steelers had a bye week and then had games against Buffalo, Kansas City, and Cincinnati - teams with a combined record of 15 - 33 in 2001. They beat up on the weak opponents, gained confidence, and rode that wave into the playoffs. This year, they don't have the luxury of beating up on teams with young, green lineups, second and third tier quarterbacks, or little to no star power. The Steelers have to regain confidence against an ultra-veteran team with a Pro Bowl quarterback and two first ballot Hall of Fame wide receivers.
The one thing that scared me last week was the complete lack of push from the front 3. Sure Kimo got two sacks, but they were more coverage sacks than anything else. The Steelers have a tendency to give up the underneath stuff and use their tackling skills and speed to take away the extra yardage. I don't know about you, but giving Tim Brown and Jerry Rice the ability to run after the catch doesn't give me a warm fuzzy feeling. They need to be aggressive and force the Raiders to change their tempo rather than accepting the tempo given and hoping to control the attack.
Don't get me wrong. The Steelers could very well bounce back and play great football. They could and should use the energy of the crowd and the mystique of an old rival to pull out a victory. I expect the Steelers to play better in every area. And if they follow the script, they should win the game. I just hope they got the right script…you know, the one without the edits.
The Steeler Defense looked just average on Monday, although there were glimpses of excellence. I would like to think that the defense will come out of the funk of the first week. I would assume so if the Steelers were playing a patsy, but Oakland is no creampuff. The Steelers will need to shut down a potent air attack and Pro Bowl quarterback Rich Gannon. To do that they will need to abuse Gannon, but if last week was any indication, they'll have trouble getting near him.
The Raiders signed Sam Adams in the off-season to shore up a weak rushing defense. They also signed Bill Romanowski, who tends to play well against the Steelers. Charles Woodson is the best corner in the AFC and future Hall of Famer Rod Woodson patrols the safety position.
Advantage: Raiders, but not by much.
This game features two Pro Bowl quarterbacks. Kordell Stewart's uninspired play last week went a long way proving that last year was a fluke. He needs to come out of the first series clean and confident or he may wish it were only beer being thrown at him. Jerome Bettis continues to be distracted by the sexual allegations and may once again be forgotten once the second quarter comes. Plaxico Burress did his best Randy Moss 2001 impersonation last week by giving up quite early in the game.
The Old Folks Home features two dandy receivers in Jerry Rice and Tim Brown. They also have a potent ground attack led by Charlie Garner. Regardless if the Raiders play a no-huddle offense, the receivers are going to keep Chad Scott and Dewayne Washington on their heels. This offense looks like it's going to try and prove that they can score touchdowns without the help of the Chuckie Doll. Sebastian Janikowski is a loose cannon at kicker, but in this game he's the kicker that made a field goal last week.
Advantage: Raiders. The Steelers should have the better offense, but once again I need to see it on the field.
Hmmmm….Rich Gannon or Kordell Stewart…Kordell Stewart or Rich Gannon…Rich Gannon or Tommy Maddox…Tommy Maddox or Rich Gannon…Rich Gannon or Charlie…aww screw it. Give me Rich Gannon.
Outlook: Sure, I could pick the Steelers to come back and win the opener. I even posted that I'd pick the Steelers. But I just don't see it. The Steelers need a bye week to look at what they've failed to do. I like the Raiders playing away.