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Steelers-Raiders pregame stretch
September 21, 2012 - Ray Eckenrode
Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1) vs. Oakland Raiders (0-2)
Sunday, 4:30 p.m., CBS
Weather – or not?: Partly cloudy, 74, 20 percent chance of rain. The last time Pittsburgh visited the bay area, the lights went out across the bay in San Francisco. No such worries here with another perfect football day for the “good weather” portion of the Steelers slate.
Information from www.weather.com
Announcers: Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts
Annoyance factor: Thankfully, CBS will be jamming Peyton Manning down the 80 percent of the nation’s throats at the same time so we get to hear the vastly underrated Eagle-Fouts duo. Fouts, especially, is gaining a reputation as a straight shooter in a sea of Goodell a$$ kissers.
Information from www.the506.com
Referee: David White
Competence factor: White is an NAIA official and his crew has received terrible marks from observers through the first two weeks, classically calling an illegal block in the back on the kicking team in the Niners-Packers game in Week 1. Steve Young made a great point after the Monday night debacco (<-- worse than a debacle), noting that since this is really an economic dispute we should look at it in economic terms and while the poor officiating might be affecting the QUALITY of the product it is NOT affecting the DEMAND for it and as long as that is true there is no real motive for the owners/NFL to give in.
Information from www.football-refs.com
The line: Steelers -4
Smarts say: The Steelers opened here as 4.5-point favorites and it dropped to 4 almost immediately, meaning a lot of smart money jumped on the Raiders and the points. That’s not surprising, given the Steelers recent West Coast history. The over/under of 45 means the smarts see something in the neighborhood of 24-20 Steelers.
Information from www.sportsbook.ag
Key matchup: Steelers rush defense vs. Raiders Darren McFadden
Because: Through two weeks, Carson Palmer is throwing 47 passes a game and McFadden has rushed 13 times per game, gaining two yards per carry. You can bet all those ratios will have to change for Oakland to win here and the Raiders know it. The Steelers rush defense is 11th in the league right now, giving up 3.8 yards per carry, but we get the sense they really haven’t been tested yet. Keep an eye out on third down for Pittsburgh’s new “big nickel” formation, a 4-2-5 alignment that sees Cam Heyward join Casey Hampton at defensive tackle to try and combat a 2011 bugaboo of allowing long third-down rushing plays.
+ Lawrence Timmons was fined $21,000 for his illegal hit in last week’s game on Mark Sanchez. Remember that Sanchez was 4-5 for 80 yards before the hit and 6-22 for 58 yards after and ask yourself: Was it worth it? For Timmons? For the Steelers? For the NFL? To you? This gets to the essence of why efforts to legislate the level of violence in the NFL will ultimately fail. There is skill in the NFL. There is strategy. There is luck. But games are won and lost based on which teams hits the other one harder. No matter what protections are put into place to define how hard is too hard and what contact is legal, when it comes to winning or losing, coaches and players are always going to cross the line.
+ You’ll note that we ranted about illegal hits fines last year but have not and will not this year. A change of heart? Hypocrisy? Neither, in our eyes. Last year, we were talking about a rule change in midyear that was brutally unfair to the players. This year, there’s been a full season of discussion, including training for players, and although we still think the rule is ill-advised and disingenuous, it’s at least being administered properly.
The pick: Trap game, red alert, trap game, red alert, trap game. The Steelers are clearly in “Let’s Get to the Bye” mode and there seems to be a feeling they can win this game on cruise control. If that turns out to be the team’s mindset, it isn’t going to happen. Carson Palmer is still dangerous but prone to the big mistake. With no Polamalu lurking, who’s going to make that clutch pick for Pittsburgh? If Palmer and the Raiders can avoid turnovers, it will open things up for McFadden and there is big trouble brewing. It is with great trepidation, we are saying… Steelers 24-23.
Last week: We were on our way to being right about Sanchez and the Jets playing well again at Heinz Field and stealing a win, but Timmons’ hit changed the game and made us (gladly) 1-1 for the year, both straight up and against the spread.