The banged-up Pittsburgh Steelers had several concerns after losing their season opener, but they responded with a resounding victory in Week 2.
It seems like their problems pale in comparison with the Oakland Raiders’ woes.
The Raiders try again Sunday for their first win under coach Dennis Allen, but it will be a tough task with a potentially healthier Pittsburgh club coming to Oakland.
Even with both star defenders sidelined last Sunday, Pittsburgh stifled the New York Jets in a 27-10 home victory, holding Mark Sanchez to 10 completions for 138 yards on 27 attempts. Ben Roethlisberger, meanwhile, nearly doubled Sanchez’s passer rating by going 24 of 31 for 275 yards and two touchdowns.
“It’s always good to have a win,” linebacker Lawrence Timmons said. “We got a win now, that’s a chip off our shoulder. Now it’s time to stack our chips.”
Coach Mike Tomlin’s team will try to do it again without Polamalu (strained calf) and Harrison (knee surgery), who were both ruled out of this game Friday. Ryan Mundy will start in place of Polamalu and Chris Carter will replace Harrison.
Running back Rashard Mendenhall also will not play even though he had a full week of practice in his recovery from January ACL surgery.
His absence could be factoring in Pittsburgh’s running game ranking 30th in the league in yardage while averaging just 2.6 per carry. Top rusher Jonathan Dwyer (turf toe) is probable after fully participating in practice.
Roethlisberger, meanwhile, has thrown for 520 yards but been sacked eight times.
“We have got a desire to have balance, to be able to attack people in ways that we desire,” Tomlin said. “Over time we better be continually moving toward that. Obviously there’s been somewhat of an imbalance to this point, but that’s just eight quarters of football.”
Despite the presence of Darren McFadden, the Raiders have had much bigger problems on the ground - their 68 rushing yards are not even half of Pittsburgh’s total. Oakland (0-2) is gaining an NFL-worst 2.0 yards per carry, and McFadden had just 22 yards on 11 attempts in last Sunday’s 35-13 loss at Miami.
The Raiders haven’t started 0-3 since losing their first five games in 2006, when they finished 2-14 under Art Shell.
“There’s a lot of things we got to do better,” Allen said. “We’re obviously not where we want to be as a football team. We have to continue to work to get better, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”
Allen’s strategy this week involved showing the film from the loss to the Dolphins to the entire team together.
“It’s not a fun meeting,” center Stefen Wisniewski said. “You don’t want to have too many meetings like that, with the whole team sitting, watching, watching an ugly film. But, you got to do that, in order to get better.”
Carson Palmer threw for 373 yards but completed only half of his 48 passes and had a 74.4 rating. Oakland’s defense couldn’t slow down Reggie Bush or cause problems for rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who didn’t turn the ball over and repeatedly found an open target with Brian Hartline catching nine passes for 111 yards.
The Raiders are searching for answers in their defensive backfield, with both starting cornerbacks now injured. Shawntae Spencer sprained his right foot against Miami and Ron Bartell was already out with a broken shoulder blade. Pat Lee struggled to cover Hartline, but he may be pressed into another start Sunday with more fearsome receivers across the line.
Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown combined for 153 yards against the Jets, with Wallace hauling in his second touchdown in as many weeks. They were among 10 players to catch a pass from Roethlisberger in the game.
Roethlisberger threw for 275 yards and three touchdowns in Pittsburgh’s most recent meeting with the Raiders, a 35-3 win in 2010. However, he was picked off four times in the Steelers’ only visit to Oakland since 1995 - a loss during the Raiders’ dismal 2006 campaign.
This will be Palmer’s first start against the Steelers since leaving Cincinnati. He posted a 76.7 passer rating while going 4-8 in 12 regular-season starts for the Bengals versus Pittsburgh.
This game features the two youngest head coaches in the NFL. Allen turns 40 on Saturday and Tomlin is also 40.
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Micah Hatchie T, Eli Rogers WR, Clifton Geathers DE, Rob Blanchflower TE, Shaun Suisham K, David Nelson WR, Bruce Gradkowski QB, Senquez Golson CB, Mitchell Van Dyk T, Kelvin Palmer T, Maurkice Pouncey C, Kelvin Beachum T, Cortez Allen CB, Le'Veon Bell RB, Brandon Boykin CB, Shamarko Thomas S, James Harrison LB, Terence Garvin LB, Ryan Shazier LB, Matt Spaeth TE