As in most NFL games, when it comes down to winning, there are three universal keys to winning. First, avoiding turnovers is paramount. Nothing destroys a team’s chances of winning more than turnovers. Second, being able to run, and to stop the run is very important. And third–it comes down to third-down conversions. When a team keeps the chains moving, and controls the time of possession, wins usually follow.
This is why the Steelers (1-1) are going to beat the Raiders in Week 3. The Steelers travel to the “Black Hole” to face the Oakland Raiders this Sunday (4:25 pm ET, Pit -3.5, 45.5).
The Steelers have turned the ball over only once this season– the Tracy Porter 43-yard interception returned for a touchdown in the opener at Denver. They did not turn the ball over to the Jets in Week 2. Both are considered stout defenses. The Raiders are not to be confused with a stout defense. They have not created a turnover in two games this season. After holding the San Diego Chargers (without starting running back Ryan Mathews in the lineup) to 45 yards rushing, the Dolphins running game torched the Raiders for 263 yards on 43 carries. The Raiders defense has given up an average of 355 total yards per game so far this season, and are 0-2. The defense gave up 452 total yards to the Dolphins and are ranked 29th in the league.
It won’t get much better for the Raiders. They lost CB Ron Bartell to the I.R. Safety Michael Huff has been asked to practice at CB this week. CB Shawntae Spencer did not practice on Thursday. CB Coye Francies was limited in practice on Thursday. DT Richard Seymour and LB Rolando McClain were both limited in practice participation.
Luckily for the Raiders, the Steelers haven’t gotten their running game firing on all cylinders. Pittsburgh is averaging 70.5 rushing yards per game. They will again be without Rashard Mendenhall, and back-up Jonathan Dwyer is nursing a toe injury. But the Steelers relatively weak running game pales in comparison to that of the Raiders. Oakland is averaging only 34 yards per game on the ground in the first two games. Darren McFadden is healthy, but the Raiders new zone-blocking scheme has yet to gel. Add to that injuries to C Alex Parsons and T Khalif Barnes (who isn’t very effective when healthy), coupled with the Steelers solid run defense (even without Polamalu and Harrison both out), and it may be a recipe for disaster.
When it comes to third down plays, Ben Roethlisberger leads the NFL in quarterback rating, pass completions, and yardage. The Steelers lead the league in third down conversions, at 55.88%. The Raiders, on the other hand, are dead last at 22.22%. They were 1-for-12 last week at Miami. Look for these trends to continue.
I see Pittsburgh trying to exploit the Raiders weak and injury-depleted secondary by showing a lot of three-wide sets. The Steelers will go vertical, and essentially set up the run via the pass. Look for Mike Wallace to have a huge game. He already has caught a touchdown pass in the first two games, and looks to make it three in a row. The Raiders will have a hard time stopping the Steelers, whether on first, second, or third down. Even with Carson Palmer (who has 670 yards through the air in the first two games) getting some come-from behind, garbage yardage, I don’t see the Raiders able to keep up with the Steelers. Darren McFadden may put up some respectable numbers without Harrison and Polamalu in the lineup, but in a high-scoring affair, it will be the Steelers on top, going into their Week 4 bye week 2-1.
PREDICTION: STEELERS 34-Raiders 23
-Ryan Dickey (@ffbninja)