On Monday Night Football, the Las Vegas Raiders shocked much of the NFL world when they secured an overtime win over the Baltimore Ravens. It was a close game, with its fair share of up and downs, with the Raiders coming back from a 14 point deficit, a touchdown that was not a touchdown, and an endzone pick that nearly cost the Raiders the game.
After the game, Jon Gruden compared himself to a cat. “I felt like I died and woke up. And died again. And I was like a cat — I had multiple lives tonight. I don’t like playing like that. It was tough, but again, we did a lot of really good things to win that football game tonight.”
It was a long game on Monday, against a physical team. And Gruden obviously did not like how up-and-down the game was. And though the Raiders showed some good things, they left Monday night’s game with some serious questions about the offensive line, their defense, and more importantly, some serious injuries.
Do the Las Vegas Raiders have a Chance Against the Steelers?
When the Las Vegas Raiders visit the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday at 1 PM CT, the Raiders need to have answered some questions about themselves. If they want to have any chance in the game, their backup players need to step up and be more than adequate for players like Denzelle Good, the Raiders starting left guard. Their offensive line will need to step up against the Steelers’ ferocious pass rush, and they need to find mismatches to exploit against the Steelers.
If the Raiders cannot come up with answers for those two things, they will be in for a long afternoon against a Steelers team that will be playing their home opener, in front of a cull crowd for the first time in over 650 days.
Denzelle Good and Gerald McCoy both went on IR following Monday’s win against the Ravens. Marcus Mariota did as well, though he was not expected to have much of an impact in the game against the Steelers, except on some trick play packages. Nick Kwiatkoski has not practiced all week with a concussion, which leads me to believe he won’t be out there on Sunday because of how tricky concussions are.
Richie Incognito and Josh Jacobs also have not practiced at all this week, as of Friday morning when this is being written. Incognito is less likely to play than Jacobs because Incognito did not play last week, but it is concerning that Jacobs has not practiced all week with a toe injury.
Yannick Ngakoue has been limited in practice all week with a hamstring injury. Unless he is a full participant in practice on Friday, he has a good chance to not play Sunday. Hamstring injuries to big, quick, defensive linemen often don’t go away quickly, and Gruden will undoubtedly want to keep Ngakoue healthy for the long year.
The injuries to the offensive line do not bode well for the Las Vegas Raiders. They will be without two of their starters against the best defensive line in the NFL, potentially their starting running back, and on the flip side, without at least a linebacker and a defensive lineman. Pending Friday’s injury report, the Las Vegas Raiders could be without six starters, three for each side of the ball.
And if the Raiders want to take advantage of a young Steeler’s offensive line, they are going to need their starters on the defensive side of the ball to do so.
The Raiders were supposed to have the advantage against the Steelers’ offensive line. If the Raiders are down the players I mentioned previously, then it might not be as big an advantage. And the Raider are going to need every mismatch they can get. Their offensive line is going to be at a disadvantage against the Steelers’ front four, but there is not really much the Raiders can do about that.
What the Las Vegas Raiders can do is target Darren Waller, though peppering him with 19 targets like they did against the Ravens is probably a little too much. Mike Tomlin compared Waller to the Steelers’ own freak of nature, Chase Claypool, saying Waller is more akin to Claypool than “any tight end.” If Daren Waller can have a big game, it might stop the Steelers from blitzing, and/or focus their attention on Waller versus rushing the passer.
The problem with that, and why I think the Raiders have little chance of doing much against the Steelers defense, is that the Steelers didn’t blitz more than twice last week. And they still sacked Josh Allen, who is much more athletic than Derek Carr I might add, three times, forcing him to fumble twice, and had over 25 pressures on Allen. With only four pass rushers.
Unless Waller takes over the game, I doubt that the Raiders are really going to be able to do anything against the Steelers pass rush. And even if Waller takes over the game, that still won’t stop the Steelers front four. The plan for the Raiders should be to take long, sustained drives, and shut the Steelers offense out as much as possible.
If the Raiders can keep the Steelers defense gassed then the Raiders offensive line should be able to keep Carr upright. Do I think it will happen? No, because the Steelers’ defense suffocated a top-3 offense last week, and the Raiders’ offense is nowhere near that. Still, there is always a chance.
On the other side of the ball, the Raiders should be able to get pressure on Ben Roethlisberger with Maxx Crosby. However, if the Las Vegas Raiders are without Ngakoue, then it’s going to be Mad Maxx and Clelin Ferrell rushing the passer. That might turn out good for the Raiders, but aside from Crosby, that does not exactly present a ferocious front four. Still, it’s the Raiders’ best chance against the Steelers.
It’s their biggest mismatch of the game, anywhere else you look the Steelers have more talent and experience, either due to injuries on the Raiders’ end, or just more overall talent for the Steelers.
The Raiders are entering a buzzsaw at Heinz Field where the Steelers will be playing in front of a stadium rocking and roaring, full of fans who get to see their team in-person for the first time in almost two years. The Steelers will be ramped up and excited, yet Mike Tomlin will have them focused, controlled, and prepared for the Raiders.
If the Las Vegas Raider can get the ball to Darren Waller early and often, forcing the Steelers to focus on Waller, and if the Raiders front seven can pressure Ben Roethlisberger, then the Raiders have a chance.
If the Raiders cannot do those two things, then they will be in for a long, long game. I think the Raiders won’t be able to do those two things, at least not effectively, and I expect the Steelers to roll the Raiders. Maybe the Raiders will prove me wrong. They have a chance to win, just like any team on any given Sunday. But their chances are slim at best and growing weaker with each practice.
Final score prediction: 34-13