For the latest installment of out Thoughts from the Other Side we caught up with our fellow Bloguin site Blitzburgh Blogs' Blitzburgh Brian.
As we usually do here, we asked Brian questions about the upcoming matchup, and of course with it being a game that has a long traditional rivalry attached, got his thoughts on his favorite past matchup.
So anyway, here is my questions and his answers:
Thoughts from the Dark Side: The team has succeeded this year despite the major controversies surrounding Big Ben and his personal issues, how has the team overcome those distractions?
Blitzburgh Blog: The same way the Steelers do everything: with defense. Mike Tomlin did a fantastic job of handling the situation, letting several subpar quarterbacks battle it out for the starting job while letting his defense play at an unreal level. No one let themselves worry about Ben, and they focused on their jobs. It's also worth noting how improved the line looked through the first four games, which allowed Rashard Mendenhall to really become a bigger part of the offense.
TFDS: Everyone knows about Big Ben and Hines Ward, but who is the true x-factor in that offense? How about the defense?
BB: It might really be Hines Ward, if just for the attitude that "everyone knows about him already, whatever." He's still taking big hits to make plays, he's still able to lose guys in coverage and get open, and he can sit make one or two guys miss a tackle if given the chance. He's been getting a lot of help from Mike Wallace though, because a deep threat receiver opens things up for a guy like Ward. So far, Wallace has been an admirable replacement for Santonio Holmes by opening up defenses with his deep presence. As for the defense, there's no question that Lawrence Timmons is driving this group. He is all over the field and is on pace to break the Steelers' single-season tackle record, which is no small feat considering the tradition of defense in this city.
TFDS: After the controversy over the fines and his threat to retire, how has James Harrison responded?
BB: Honestly, he's been sort of invisible compared to what he was in 2008. Teams are scheming to block him and he spends less time in the backfield than he used to. The fines aren't changing the way he plays, though. He knows if he makes a tackle there is a ~30% it will cost him $10,000 or more, but he's going to keep playing football the way he does. He signed a big money contract in the last few years, anyway.
TFDS: What concerns you most facing the Raiders?
BB: The same thing that concerns me every week: The Raiders' short-passing game. The Steelers still can't quite defend it (See: New England, last Sunday night), but fortunately all the scouting I've seen on the Raiders isn't exactly, "Jason Campbell is the next Ken Stabler for the silver and black." Nevertheless, Bruce freakin' Gradkowski torched the defense last year to win the game, so who knows how the teams will react to each other on Sunday. One thing that doesn't concern me though: Darren McFadden. You just don't run on the Steelers. Wasting your time.
TFDS: What do the Steelers have to do to win the game? How can the Raiders pull it out?
BB: If I were the offensive coordinator (and I'm not) I would be calling a quick passing game with a 3 step drop every other down, while peppering in a few inside runs and maybe a deep bomb for Wallace here and there. The offensive and defensive lines are ravaged by injuries right now, so keeping pressure off of Ben and stringing together long drives to rest the D-Line are critical. The less the defense is on the field, the less of an issue it will be that we can dress like 4 linemen total.
Predict the final score
Steelers 24, Raiders 17
*>Historical rivalry question<*
Favorite memory of a Raider Steeler matchup?
I could be lame and pick the Immaculate Reception, but I think I'll go with a matchup in Oakland in the 1975 (I think) playoffs when Joe Greene just dominated the Raiders and the Steelers stomped them. It may have been after the "Sea of Hands" game but I'm not looking it up or anything to check.
Blitzburgh Brian writes at the Blitzburgh Blog.