The Steelers are heading into their first home game of the season in front of raucous Steelers fans at Heinz Field. However, a battle-tested Raiders team, who got a tough win over the Baltimore Ravens at home. With what seems like another tough game up on the schedule, what must the Steelers do to come out with a victory on the North Shore?
Limit Darren Waller
The subtitle has to be limit Darren Waller because quite frankly at this point he seems inevitable. After a game where Derek Carr fed Waller 19 targets despite the Ravens’ best attempts to deter Carr from him all game, it appears the Steelers will have to deal with Waller no matter the strategy they choose to attack him with. Now, the obvious strategy here is bracketing Waller as much as possible, and it certainly makes a lot of sense to do that. However, it would be hard to imagine them doing that on every play.
Still, disguising those brackets and making Carr read the field, thus allowing the Steelers pass rush to get home much easier makes a lot of sense. When the New England Patriots took away Waller last year in their matchup, they used a combination of disguised double teams and Stephon Gilmore. Now, the Steelers do not have a true Gilmore on their team. But, it would make if they used Minkah Fitzpatrick in this role to potentially try and slow down Waller. They trust him a lot, and he might be one of Fitzpatrick’s personal responsibilities. Either way, expect Waller to make some plays, the Steelers simply can not let him take over the game.
Chip Maxx Crosby…Or Max(x) Protect
The biggest mismatch for the Steelers on the other side is easily the matchup of Maxx Crosby versus Chukwuma Okorafor. Okorafor did not show he could even handle anybody the Bills threw at him. Crosby is an explosive, bendy edge rusher with a lot of moves in his vast arsenal. Alejandro Villanueva found that out the hard way when he was put on an island against him last week.
This is something the Steelers really can just not afford to do. Okorafor needs help to aid Ben Roethlisberger in having time to throw the football, particularly down the field. So, throwing chips at Crosby with tight ends and running backs makes a load of sense. Even more so, the Ravens may be prone to allowing the explosive play. If the Steelers can keep in max protect and allow Roethlisberger just some time, there could be big plays waiting ahead. Thus, they have to neutralize Crosby’s presence in this game in some manner.
Don’t Commit Too Hard to Last Week’s Defensive Gameplan
This is a key point for a few reasons. While it may seem obvious that the Steelers do not want to do what they did last week, they have to find a nice balance. For one, the Bills were consistently going empty and into 10 personnel with little to no heavy personnel. The Raiders, on the other hand, often run 12 personnel and get their other tight ends involved. In other words, they can not live in nickel and dime all day. At some point, the Steelers will have to respect the running game.
Jon Gruden might be a weird figure, but he is still a great offensive mind. He knows that the Steelers never respected the Bills’ running game, and he needs to make the Steelers respect his running game to some degree. Granted, with no Josh Jacobs that becomes somewhat harder, but getting into some spread looks out of their 10 personnel or 11 personnel with Waller flexed out makes a lot of sense. If Devin Bush can not suit up especially, the Raiders have a clear gameplan to follow, at least early in the game.
Punch the Raiders Interior in the Mouth
This is in relation to the running game because the Raiders certainly have a weak spot along their line. With Gerald McCoy out, the Raiders certainly will be lacking a little oomph in the middle of their defense. There is talent there, but the opportunity is ripe for the taking. If the Steelers’ offensive line can get some push from their interior, mainly Kevin Dotson, Kendrick Green, and Trai Turner, Najee Harris could be a potent weapon on the ground.
In fact, just looking at the Raiders interior defensive line compared to the Steelers interior offensive line, these are not mismatches. The Steelers have an opportunity to make a real impact on the ground with those three and Harris slogging ahead. The Steelers did begin to show some life on the ground in the second half, as well. If they can carry some of that into Heinz Field, the running game may see some legitimate success against a Raiders defense that has struggled with their run defense.