Game Scout: Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4-1) at Oakland Raiders (2-10)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:25 PM ET, Oakland-Alameda County Stadium FOX, Thom Brennaman, Chris Spielman, Shannon Spake (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 23rd regular-season meeting. Raiders lead series, 12-10, and have won the past three games played in Oakland. The Steelers won the most recent meeting, 38-35, in 2015 at Heinz Field. The past three games have been decided by three points. These two teams have met in the playoffs on six occasions. The Raiders won the most recent playoff matchup in 1983 when they resided in Los Angeles.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Steelers have to get their rushing attack back on track and there is no better opponent to cure what ails them than the Raiders, who give up 153.3 yards per game on the ground, tied for last in the league. The Steelers have morphed into the NFL's pass-happiest team this season, but they would be wise to attack Oakland's biggest weakness with their talented offensive line and control the clock as well as the game's tempo. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is struggling with interceptions in recent weeks and taking some pressure off their signal-caller is a good idea. The Raiders certainly can be attacked in the secondary as well, but a cautious game plan is in order after another pass-heavy plan that failed against the Chargers Sunday night.
Oakland's offense heated up against the Chiefs. The Raiders scored 33 points, their second-highest point total of the season. Quarterback Derek Carr will look to take advantage of a shaky Steelers secondary that allowed Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers to lead a comeback that included 25 second-half points. Carr hasn't been very good overall this season, but he did throw three touchdown passes against the Chiefs without throwing an interception. The Steelers can't allow Carr to get a rhythm early. If they do they could be in for another long day.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Steelers WR Antonio Brown vs. Raiders secondary. As Raiders head coach Jon Gruden pointed out, the Steelers like to move Brown around, so "You don't know where he's going to be." Gruden even compared Brown, who has 81 receptions for 1,028 yards and 12 touchdowns this season, to Jerry Rice. The Steelers probably will try to get Brown singled up on the young defensive backs in the Oakland secondary: Gareon Conley, Karl Joseph, Daryl Worley and Nick Nelson. S Marcus Gilchrist, who has two interceptions in recent games, must give this group some veteran leadership and perhaps picks off one or two of Ben Roethlisberger's passes.
--Steelers S Terrell Edmunds vs. Raiders TE Jared Cook. The Steelers have struggled covering tight ends this season and Cook has the ability to take advantage of Edmunds, a rookie who is just getting his feet wet in his first NFL season. Cook had seven receptions for 100 yards against the Chiefs on Sunday. Edmunds, who has been exposed in coverage at times this season, has a tough assignment ahead of him.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Steelers RB Jaylen Samuels could have a larger role in the game plan against the Raiders with starting running back James Conner nursing a leg injury this week. Samuels has bypassed veteran Stevan Ridley as the top backup behind Conner. Samuels did not play running back in college. At North Carolina State, he played tight end/H-back and slot receiver. He is at his best as a pass receiver out of the backfield, but his skills as a runner will be under scrutiny over the final four games if Conner is not 100 percent for the stretch run.
FAST FACTS: STEELERS QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER passed for 281 yards with 2 TDs vs. 1 INT for 87.4 rating last week. In his past 4, has 1,385 pass yards (346.3 per game) with 10 TDs vs. 6 INTs for 97.6 rating. In 6 road games in 2018, has 2,103 pass yards (350.5 per game) with 10 TD passes. Leads NFL with 3,945 pass yards & ranks 2nd with 341 completions. ... RB JAYLEN SAMUELS (rookie) had TD catch in Week 13. Has TD catch in 2 of his past 4. ... WR ANTONIO BROWN had 10 catches for 154 yards, incl. 28-yard TD, last week. Has TD catch in 9 of his past 10. Has 115+ rec. yards & TD in 2 of his past 3. Is 1 of 2 in NFL (DAVANTE ADAMS) with 80+ catches (81), 1,000+ rec. yards (1,028) & 10+ TD catches (12) this season. Has 1,000+ rec. yards in 6 consecutive seasons. ... WR JuJU SMITH-SCHUSTER has 100+ rec. yards in 2 of his past 3. Smith-Schuster (83 catches, 1,104 rec. yards) & Brown (81, 1,028) are only pair of teammates with 80+ catches & 1,000+ rec. yards in 2018. ... LB T.J. WATT has 3 sacks in his past 4. ... Rookie S TERRELL EDMUNDS had 7 tackles & his 1st-career sack last week. ... DT JAVON HARGRAVE had sack last week. Has 3.5 sacks in his past 3. ... LB VINCE WILLIAMS has sack in 3 of his past 4. ... RAIDERS QB DEREK CARR completed 29 of 38 (76.3 pct.) for 285 yards with 3 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 123.2 rating last week. Has 2+ TD passes & 100+ rating in 2 of his past 3. Aims for his 8th in row with 0 INTs. Is 1 of 5 NFL QBs with 3,000+ pass yards (3,112) & 69+ comp. pct. (69.2) in 2018. ... RB DOUG MARTIN aims for his 3rd in row with 65+ scrimmage yards & TD. ... RB JALEN RICHARD set career-highs with 126 scrimmage yards & 95 rush yards in Week 13. Averaged 15.8 yards per carry last week (6 carries for 95 yards), highest single-game rush avg. (min. 5 carries) in NFL this season. Has 90+ scrimmage yards in 2 of his past 3. ... TE JARED COOK had 7 catches for 100 yards & TD last week. Aims for his 4th in row with TD catch. Is 1 of 3 NFL TEs (TRAVIS KELCE & ZACH ERTZ) with 3+ games with 100+ rec. yards this season. ... Rookie WR MARCELL ATEMAN had 1st career TD catch last week. ... LB TAHIR WHITEHEAD had 7 tackles & FF last week. Has 30 tackles (10 per game) in his past 3.
PREDICTION: The Raiders have been improving offensively, but the defense won't have enough answers against a Steelers team that faces a daunting schedule down the stretch.
OUR PICK: Steelers, 31-21