STEELERS - RAIDERS WHAT WE LEARNED
1. What we've learned through three games for the Steelers is that veteran quarterbacks who read defenses at a high level, have shredded the Steelers defense after making the necessary IN-GAME adjustments without the need for many explosive plays (20+ yards). Peyton Manning put on a show against Pittsburgh in the second half in week 1 and Carson Palmer did the same thing on Sunday. What was common for Pittsburgh in defending Manning and Palmer is that the Steelers got little to no pressure against both in the second half. Pittsburgh recorded just one sack and had one quarterback hurry against Palmer in Sunday's game and while Palmer is no longer an elite quarterback, he showed on Sunday that he can pick defenses apart like the best of the them when given the type of time he had Sunday afternoon. Pittsburgh's lack of pressure from their front seven remains a big problem moving forward and some of that pressure has to start coming from the defensive line but at fault here is also the secondary. What might be a bigger concern is the Steelers defense being so predictable. Manning and Palmer knew what the Steelers defense was going to do beforehand, which led to so many play changes at the line of scrimmages, especially in the second half in both of those games.¬†This Steelers defense looks like the defense from 2009 and I wouldn't count on Troy Polamalu and James Harrison playing at the level they have in the past as former defensive player of the year's. The Steelers problems on defense go beyond them.
2. In Pittsburgh's week 2 win vs Jets, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau employed the Steelers corners to play press coverage and jam at the line of scrimmage against New York after they were burned by the Jets on their first drive. It was a successful tactic vs New York that drew high praise from Jets coach Rex Ryan but where was it Sunday? That's been an issue with LeBeau as he goes away from it and the Steelers corners were way too passive vs Oakland. With physical corners like the Steelers have, they shouldn't be exploited in the short passing game like they are. The problem is not with the personnel. On Oakland's game winning drive, Carson Palmer converted four straight passes of 15 yards, 9 yards, 8 yards and 17 yards to setup the game winning field goal from Janikowski.
3. Is Casey Hampton shot? That seems to be a hot topic this week¬†and while it's too early to say as some will argue he's still doing his job of taking on a blocker like some are arguing he did on Darren McFadden's 64 yard TD run, but Hampton is getting no push and don't expect much impact from him this season.
4. Three players who need to play more moving forward; Steve McLendon who was on the field for just 3 of 57 snaps vs Oakland, Cameron Heyward (5 snaps vs Oakland) and Jason Worilds. Players who need to see less playing time, paving the way for McLendon, Heyward and Worilds; Casey Hampton, Ziggy Hood, and Chris Carter.
5. Mike Tomlin was quoted last week as saying that Ryan Mundy is viewed as a third starter at the safety position............That might be the BS line of the season for Tomlin.
6. Brett Keisel had a rough game vs Oakland but alot of his miscues were mental such as a bad gap on the McFadden touchdown run, neutral zone infraction in the 2nd quarter (redzone). If Keisel's game, though, were to slip this season which is very possible at his age, this defense is in big trouble.
7. As alarming as the Steelers defense is right now, in addition to suffering two AFC losses, it's still too early to panic with a 1-2 start due to the way Ben Roethlisberger is throwing the ball and how dynamic this passing game is. The execution in the redzone has been promising in the past two games and the execution on Roethlisberger's first touchdown pass of the game was an excellent play design as Antonio Brown on the outside ran a slant drawing the corner and safety to him, leaving Miller all lone in the flat. This is an offense to be very excited about even with an awful running game and no signs of an improved offensive line.
8. Todd Haley is starting to get it and that's starting the game aggressive. What plagued the Steelers in their first two games was being very conservative on FIRST DOWN in the first half and trying to make too much of a focus on running the ball. Haley went away from that on Sunday, although he doesn't get all the credit as Roethlisberger made several changes at the line of scrimmage, and even admitted that he called plays from the "old playbook".
Pittsburgh threw the ball on four straight plays on their first series of game that ended with a Ben Roethlisberger touchdown pass to Heath Miller, capping off a 7 play, 36 yard scoring drive. The Steelers in fact attempted to pass on 13 of their first 15 plays and put up 14 points on their first two possessions to open the game, both Roethlisberger touchdown passes to Heath Miller. Pittsburgh threw the ball 31 times in the first half as Roethlisberger went 22 of 31 for 207 yards and 2 touchdowns. Yes, they are going to need the running game, but this offense is at it's best when it's aggressive early on.
9. Mike Wallace had his first 100 yard game since October 23, 2011 and what we've seen from him so far this season is improved route running, especially in the middle of the field on underneath routes, which¬†is a positive sign in his development¬†after his lackluster second half of the season in 2011.
Aside from the 22 yard TD grab in the 3rd quarter, Wallace had some crucial grabs, especially early on in the game on the Steelers first two possessions:
Steelers 1st Series: 4th and 1, Jerricho Cotchery creates a pick on Michael Huff and Roethlisberger hits Wallace on a slant for a 20 yard reception.
Steelers 2nd Series: On 2nd and 18 at the Raiders 18, Wallace hauls in a 14 yard reception, setting up first and goal at the Raiders 4 yard line, leading to a Roethlisberger 4 yard touchdown pass to Heath Miller.
10. Jonathan Dwyer went from 42 snaps in the season opener against Denver to just 8 snaps vs Oakland on Sunday afternoon. The Steelers expressing more confidence in Baron Batch as a pass blocker played a factor but being a young back still looking to prove himself, ball security has to be a key to stay out of Mike Tomlin's doghouse.