The 5: Keys to Steelers beating the Raiders in NFL Week 3
The Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0) enter their Week 3 road game with the Las Vegas Raiders (1-0) in a surprisingly similar situation as their opponents. Both teams are a bit banged up. Both teams have been struggling offensively.
This week, we look at five key things the Steelers need to do in order to secure a win rather than what fans should watch for, even though that’s applicable as well.
Give Harris, Warren opportunities to get outside the box
Fan discussion after the last two games for Pittsburgh have locked into debate about whether Najee Harris is being upstaged by fellow rusher Jaylen Warren. Using the eye test only, it certainly seems that Warren has been in the open field more often than Harris. The eye test isn’t always indicative of what is really happening on the field, and over the last two weeks don’t matchup with the stats sheets.
Both the San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns indicated they’d play the Steelers offense focused on shutting down the run game in order to force Kenny Pickett to pass against them. They stacked the box, meaning there were as many as eight defenders on the line or within five yards of the line of scrimmage. The Steelers offensive line, which has yet to be a consistent unit, would simply be overwhelmed by sheer number of opponents to block.
The runs by Harris and Warren that have had the most success have been outside the tackles, especially when an extra blocker (tight end, receiver, swinging lineman, and even Pickett) has pinned a defender to the inside.
That seems to indicate that, instead of slamming the ball into the “A” or “B” gaps, the Steelers would have more success getting some runs to the outside that aren’t simply “jet sweeps” or obvious misdirection plays.
Utilize offensive backs more in the passing game
The Steelers could also take pressure off of Pickett and the struggling offensive line by being much more creative in how they utilize their offensive backs in the passing game.
There’s a reason Connor Heyward is listed as a H-back/Fullback and tight end. Use him.
Get Harris and Warren into better positions for outlet passes.
In other words, the Steelers could do a much better job of creating scenarios that spread the Raiders defense out – one that has struggled outside of Maxx Crosby‘s disruptive pressure – similar to teams (like the Buffalo Bills) who did just that.
- 5 Steelers surprises in Monday’s win against the Browns
- NFL Week 3 Scouting Report: Steelers at Las Vegas Raiders
Field the best linemen or adjust for success
The proof is in the pudding, so to speak, that the Steelers absolutely have to make changes along the offensive line. It shouldn’t matter if a player on that line is a veteran, a rookie, or somewhere in between in their career. If they aren’t keeping up, they need to be pulled off the field and replaced.
Sure, it’s easy to say that and not be on the coaching staff. Surely, though, those up close to these players see more than any of us when it comes to evaluation and know things are not clicking.
Yes, Pickett has been less than spectacular in his accuracy and choices in passing. Some of that has been a direct result of the offensive line being unable to manage things up front against a defensive onslaught. Some of it has just been Pickett continuing to grow as a starting quarterback.
Excuses need to be buried and the Steelers have got to start walking the talk.
Defensive coverage must be improved
I dislike focusing on a single player since NFL football is a team sport. After two games, though, it has become clear that Pittsburgh has an issue with Levi Wallace in underneath coverage and stopping the run.
He’s not the only one underperforming. The interior linebackers have been a bit of a mystery, too. The mix has been inconsistent in preventing opposing rushers from getting bottled up in the second level, resulting in some big plays.
Teryl Austin needs to get with his coordinators and figure out how to protect sideline-to-sideline without getting burned up the middle. Whether that means a total shift of personnel or not is unclear.
Regardless, in order to be competitive, coverage in these areas needs to be addressed immediately.
Add more of a mix with tight ends to free-up receivers
It’s clear that when Pickett is allowed to truly get set, he can throw an accurate deep pass. He hit George Pickens on a beautiful route against the Browns.
Where, oh where have the tight ends gone in this Steelers offense, though?
Darnell Washington can be more than just an extra blocker. The guy’s wingspan alone is wider than I am tall, I can almost guarantee it – and I’m not short by medical standards.
Yes, Pat Freiermuth got banged up but he came back and was essentially ignored or overlooked as a passing target.
Again, why aren’t they getting Connor Heyward more opportunities?
A tight end can free up downfield receivers. It’s a known fact. Other teams have utilized schemes with tight ends to do just that – give their quarterback options, especially against heavy defensive pressure. The Steelers would do well to take a page from those teams’ playbook and force the Raiders to try to cover more targets.
Hey, it’d open up the run game, too. What a novel concept.