When the Oakland Raiders host the Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday, the main concern on defense will be dealing with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. At 6' 5" and 240 pounds, the two-time Super Bowl champion is a load to bring to the ground and athletic enough to extend play with his feet. The Oakland defense will have to keep putting pressure and hits on Roethlisberger to slow down the Pittsburgh offense.
“Yeah, you’ve got to approach him as if he’s not down,” Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver said of Roethlisberger. “He’s not down if somebody’s hanging on him because he’s so strong. You have to keep taking your shots and keep on scratching and fighting because that’s what he does. If he does get out or do something, get the guy to the ground and go to the next play. You guys hear that from me a lot, but that’s how you have to play him. You can’t get that in your head. Just keep activating guys and getting on him. Keep jumping on him.”
In six games this season, Roethlisberger has thrown for 1,655 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions. All five interceptions and four lost fumbles came before the Steelers' bye week, in their four losses. Since the bye, Roethlisberger and the Steelers have won two in a row and he has not turned the ball over. The Raiders defense will look to revert Roethlisberger back to the way he played in the first four weeks by dialing up pressure and putting him in positions to make mistakes.
Two things on offense have helped the Steelers since their bye and improved the offense. Their second round pick in this year's NFL Draft, running back La'Veon Bell is healthy and providing balance as well as tight end Heath Miller returning to form from knee surgery. Those two players along with Roethlisberger have played a big part in the wins. Bell gives the Steelers offensive balance which lacked in the first few weeks. Miller can work the middle of the field and is a reliable target for first downs.
“It’s helped their offense,” Tarver said of Bell and Miller. “The last two weeks after their bye they’ve done a nice job with being balanced, with running the ball at you, at the defense, for positive yards. He’s a big back, and he can get positive yards. Miller is good in the run and in the pass game. He’s been one of the best all-around tight ends in the NFL. That helps them in what they want to do; being able to run and pass more efficiently. People say it’s a 50/50 balance. It’s not always that. It’s what percentage you’re going to use in each game plan to win the game. They’re more balanced since the last two weeks after the bye, and it’s helped them.”
On the outside Roethlisberger will rely on wide receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanual Sanders and their big play ability. Combined the two receivers have 12 receptions of 20 or more yards. Brown is the most consistent and most targeted. He has 47 catches for 548 and two touchdowns. The Raiders will have to mark him on third down as he has accounted for 30 Steelers first downs. Sanders has 24 receptions for 308 yards and one 55 yard score. Cornerbacks Mike Jenkins, Tracy Porter and DJ Hayden will accept the challenge for Oakland.
The Raiders secondary has played well this season allowing opposing teams to only 241 passing yards per game. Tarver will activate Charles Woodson on the blitz as well as linebacker Sio Moore. Pressure will be key against Roethlisberger as well as finishing that pressure with hits and not allowing him to slip out of tackles. Defensive end Lamarr Houston leads the team with three sacks and will get chances for more Sunday. The Steelers offensive line has holes. They have allowed 22 sacks in six games so Tarver won't hesitate to test them.
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