Key Match-ups: Steelers-Raiders

Neal Coolong examines the key match-ups in today's game between the World Champion Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders.

RT Willie Colon vs. LE Richard Seymour

Colon has been the Steelers best all-around lineman this season, and Pittsburgh has used both he and LG Chris Kemoeatu for a high level of success on runs to the right side. In a game that figures to see Pittsburgh run 30 or more times, Colon's ability to lock Seymour down is critical.

Seymour is one of the few bright spots on an overall forgettable Raiders defense. While the Steelers have several advantages along a depleted Raiders defensive front, the right side has been their bread-and-butter. Colon, and the return of Kemoeatu, will have to help seal Seymour off if Pittsburgh wishes to get RBs Rashard Mendenhall and Willie Parker significant carries.

RB Rashard Mendenhall vs. LB Kirk Morrison

Oakland is allowing over 160 yards per game on the ground, and teams are running on them more than 35 times a game. There's no reason to think this trend won't continue Sunday. Mendenhall is still averaging five yards a carry, and while Pittsburgh doesn't generally run well inside the center and guards, but Morrison plays well in pursuit and is a solid run defender.

Mendenhall uses a quick spin move while getting through the first level of tacklers, and doesn't often lower his shoulder to take on a defender in a one-on-one situation. Morrison is more brute than finesse, and he will have to prepare to wrap Mendenhall up low at the point of attack.

QB Bruce Gradkowski vs. FS Ryan Clark

It's a sad state of affairs when Gradkowsi – the Pittsburgh native – and his 66.3 passer rating is an improvement over his predecessor's. Gradkowsi has gotten the start over JaMarcus Russell the past two weeks, and he's been just a shade below average at best. He did lead the Raiders to an upset over Cincinnati, and he's reduced the amount of interceptions in each of his past three appearances, while increasing his touchdown output each game in that same period.

Clark looked like he was caught out of place a few times against Baltimore, and generally hasn't performed at the level to which the Steelers are accustomed. While the Raiders can't claim much of a big-play threat, Oakland likely won't be able to offer much on the ground against the Steelers' top-ranked run defense. Pittsburgh has a huge advantage in terms of pass rushing vs. protection, but Oakland would be wise to try to line up something intended to go after Clark's over-aggressive nature.

P Shane Lechler vs. Steelers P return

Lechler is one of the best punters the game has ever seen, and leagues the league again with a 44.7 yard net average. Considering he's on the field more often than any other punter (70 kicks), his numbers are truly staggering. His ability to get the Raiders out of bad field position, and to inflict some of that on the Raiders opponents makes him a dangerous player in any game.

Pittsburgh has not been terrible on punt returns, with Stefan Logan leading the way at 8.9 yards per return. Oakland's coverage unit allows 7.2 yards per return, which is in the top third of the league. Due to Lechler's leg and their hustling coverage team, Logan has to make sure to hang onto the ball, especially when he (more likely Mewelde Moore) are back inside the 20 to fair catch.

The Coolong Scorecard
Steelers Unit Raiders
x Quarterback  
x Running backs  
x Offensive line  
x Wide receivers  
x Tight ends  
x Defensive line  
x Linebackers  
x Defensive backs  
  Special teams x

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