Steelers look to bounce back out on the West Coast against the Raiders
Although the teams don't play each other every year, the Pittsburgh Steelers will renew their rivalry against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday. Both sides will be trying to snap their losing streaks.
After defeating the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 11, the Steelers (7-4-1) have lost two in a row but still have a slight lead in the AFC North over Baltimore (7-5). Pittsburgh's defense has been pretty solid throughout the season, but it gave up 33 points and 371 yards last week at home to the Chargers.
Oakland has lost it's last two games and now sits at 2-10 on the season. The Raiders scored 33 points last week, their second-highest total this season, but gave up 40 in losing at home to the Chiefs.
Oakland leads the all-time series with Pittsburgh 15-13, including playoff matchups. The Steelers have not won in Oakland in 23 years (Dec. 10, 1995) as they have lost three in a row to the Raiders on the West Coast.
Pittsburgh at Oakland
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 9 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Three Things to Watch
1. Steelers' running game
Pittsburgh has had to make to do this season without Le'Veon Bell and while James Conner has done admirably as his replacement, he will not play in this game after suffering an ankle injury in last week's loss to the Chargers. Conner is fifth in the NFL in rushing with 909 yards and his 12 rushing touchdowns are good for second, behind Todd Gurley's 15.
Without Conner, the Steelers will rely on a running back by committee approach against the Raiders. Jaylen Samuels, a fifth-round pick out of NC State, and veteran Stevan Ridley will share carries. Pittsburgh also promoted Trey Edmunds from their practice squad to the 53-man roster.
Replacing Conner will certainly not be easy, but Oakland is second to last in the league in rushing defense (153.3 ypg), so the opportunity is there for others to step up and get something down on the ground.
2. Derek Carr
All things considering, Carr played well in last week's loss to Kansas City. He finished with 285 passing yards and three touchdowns, completing 76.3 percent of his passes (29 of 38) in the process. Over the last three weeks, Carr has totaled 671 yards, six touchdowns and most importantly, no interceptions.
Pittsburgh could not slow down Philip Rivers and the Chargers' passing attack last week, as Rivers completed 26 passes for 299 yards and two scores. If Carr can continue to click with his receivers, Oakland should be able to move the ball and put some points on the scoreboard.
3. Steelers' defense
Pittsburgh's defense enters this game ranked a respectable seventh in yards allowed per game (328.9). But this unit is looking for some answers following last week's second-half meltdown against the Chargers. Coming out of halftime with a 23-7 lead, Los Angeles scored 23 straight points before kicking a field goal on the last play of the game to steal a 33-30 victory at Heinz Field.
Rivers was efficient from the pocket but also hit on some big plays, including a 46-yard touchdown strike to Travis Benjamin to get the Chargers on the scoreboard late in the first quarter after the Steelers jumped out to a 13-0 lead. Pittsburgh had all sorts of trouble covering Keenan Allen, who finished with 14 catches for 148 yards a touchdown and a key two-point conversion. And rookie running back Justin Jackson also provided a spark for the offense in the second half as he picked up 63 rushing yards on just carries, including an 18-yard TD that gave Los Angeles its first lead halfway through the fourth quarter.
Oakland may not have the same kind of firepower that the Chargers do, but if the Steelers can't tighten up their pass coverage, Carr and the Raiders should be able to make some plays.
This game is difficult to gauge for many reasons. Pittsburgh has been scuffling on defense the last few weeks and its recent track record in games played in Oakland is not encouraging. The Raiders' defense has actually improved in recent weeks, although that may not show up in the win column.
Ben Roethlisberger's road issues are well documented and it's no different when it comes to playing in Oakland, where he's 0-3 in his career. However, the Steelers know what is at stake here as they can ill afford to lose a game they should win. They also are still licking their wounds after giving one away last week at home to the Chargers. It won't come easily, but Pittsburgh gets back into the win column to improve its standing in the AFC playoff picture.
Prediction: Steelers 34, Raiders 31
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.