The Pittsburgh Steelers will travel to the West Coast to square off with the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday Night Football. This is a battle between two historic NFL franchises, both with passionate fan bases currently supporting teams with identical 1-1 records thus far. There’s plenty of interesting storylines on both sides of the football, but these three matchups intrigue me the most.
Steelers EDGE T.J. Watt vs. Raiders RT Jermaine Eluemunor
A fully healthy T.J. Watt has been a sight to behold, as the 2021 NFL Defensive Player of the Year has been absolutely dominant through two weeks. He’s among the league leaders among edge rushers in sacks (4) and pressures (13), all while being his typical disruptive self against the run as well. Through two weeks, he’s done exactly what the Steelers expect him to do which is terrorize opposing quarterbacks. As impressive as the tape has been, it’s fair to point out that he hasn’t been up against the stoutest of competition in his first two matchups, and he’ll get a bigger test this weekend against the Raiders.
T.J. Watt with the swipe/rip move for the sack. Bend is absurd… pic.twitter.com/nV5sFpDuw0
— Derrick (@Steelers_DB) September 20, 2023
The Raiders offensive line has done an incredible job keeping new starting quarterback Jimmy Garopollo upright so far. Right tackle Jermaine Eleumunor has certainly played an integral part of their success, having not allowed a single pressure through 50 passing snaps according to PFF. Eleumunor, now 28-years old, has been a really solid player for several seasons now and even held his own for the most part against Watt in their matchup last season. However, Watt was clearly not 100% down the stretch. This should be an extremely fun matchup to watch unfold over the course of 60 minutes.
Steelers ILB Elandon Roberts vs. Raiders RB Josh Jacobs
After some truly dreadful off-ball linebacker play in recent seasons, the Steelers front office made a concentrated effort to get tougher and more physical this offseason. The first step was bringing in veteran linebacker Elandon Roberts. The eight-year pro is a quality role-player who fills his niche quite well as thumping run defender. He’s already registered six stops on the season per PFF, but none were more impressive than his goal line stop on Browns running back Jerome Ford last week. Raiders head coach and play caller Josh McDaniels loves his two-back sets meaning Roberts could see extended playing time this week.
This rep from Elandon Roberts is what the Steelers have been missing for several years at the position.
Quick trigger downhill, stack to know back to climbing guard and shed to the ball carrier. This is what he does, man.
Dude is physical as all get out. pic.twitter.com/r8Q44RgpJ6
— Derrick (@Steelers_DB) August 13, 2023
After a contract dispute turned into an extended offseason absence, Josh Jacobs season is off to an extremely slow start. He’s averaging a dreadful 1.6 yards per carry while the Raiders are sitting dead last in rushing success rate as a team. This is obviously a far cry from how productive he was in 2022. When you watch the film, it does appear that Jacobs is still knocking some rust off however most of the issues lie in the run blocking department and the fact that he’s seeing an increased rate of loaded box counts. Jacobs has always been a supremely talented runner and that skill didn’t vanish overnight. Pittsburgh was able to corral him in their matchup last season and if they wish to win this game, they’ll need a similar effort from their defense.
Steelers WR George Pickens vs. Raiders CB Marcus Peters
There hasn’t been many bright spots along the Steelers offense through the first two games. But George Pickens performance against the Cleveland Browns was awfully encouraging. With Diontae Johnson sidelined for at least a month, Pickens was due to see an increased role. He delivered a career high 127-yard performance highlighted by an exhilarating 71-yard catch and run for a score in the second quarter. Perhaps more exciting than anything, Pickens was making plays all over the field and not just on go-balls down the sideline. He’s already displaying more effectiveness after the catch, something that he needed to improve on. Pickens has the look of a potential star and the Steelers might need him to morph into one sooner rather than later to jumpstart this struggling offense.
"They" said George Pickens couldn't separate.
"They" were wrong. pic.twitter.com/8oww4A3C7t
— Derrick (@Steelers_DB) September 19, 2023
After years of having to deal with him in the AFC North, the Steelers will get reacquainted with a familiar face in the form of Raiders cornerback Marcus Peters. The book on Peters has been out for a while now. He’s a playmaker for better or worse, with plus ball skills, but he’s also a risk taker which sometimes gets him in trouble. The former first-round pick has also been known as a big trash talker, which makes this matchup between these two talented players even more intriguing. Pittsburgh hasn’t been able to generate anything down the field so far this season, but perhaps a double move to Peters’ side might be worth exploring early in the game to take advantage of his aggressive nature. Kenny Pickett just has to make sure that he’s careful with his eyes when looking towards that side of the field.