The Raiders end their week-long vacation as, for the second consecutive year, they prepare to travel to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers. Last year, the Raiders scored their signature victory of the season in Pittsburgh as they walked off the field on the happy side of a 27-24 score. The victory became reality after Bruce Gradkowski led a fourth-quarter comeback. Gradkowski's efforts earned AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.
Gradkowski will be returning to his hometown and the site of his best performance from last year, as a backup. Tom Cable has named Jason Campbell the starting QB on the strength of Campbell's performance in three straight victories. Gradkowski has been sidelined with a shoulder separation, but Tom Cable has said he is fully recovered and will be able to play without limitations, should the Raiders need him.
Unlike last year, this game has meaning in the standing for both teams. Both the Raiders (5-4) and the Steelers (6-3) sit, tied, atop their respective division. The Steelers are fresh off a Sunday Night defeat to the New England Patriots. It was a game in which the Steelers allowed a season-high in points, rushing yards and passing yards.
Still, the Steelers defense leads the NFL in rushing defense - both in terms of yards per game and per carry. This sets up for an interesting matchup as the Raiders will bring one of the premier rushing attacks. They will enter the contest second in yards per game and third in yards per carry.
The Patriots set a blueprint for rushing success against the Steelers. The Patriots were the first team to break 100 yards on the ground against the Steelers and did so by spreading out the field with their passing attack. This is in stark contrast to the Raiders, who use their running game to set up their passing game.
On the other side of the ball, the Steelers will be relying on a struggling and injury riddled offensive line to stop a fierce Raiders pass rush. The Raiders currently own the league leading sack percentage. Protecting the QB is going to be key for both teams, as both teams are far better at rushing the passer than they are at keeping their own upright.
Check back here for more matchup previews and insights from a Steelers perspective. Also, we will keep tabs on the key injury issues for this game. For the Raiders, Nnamdi Asomugha has said he is unsure if he will be able to play after suffering an ankle sprain in Week 8. TE Zach Miller missed last game with a foot injury, but Tom Cable has said he expects him to practice on Wednesday. DT John Henderson may resume practicing for the first time since Week 2.
For the Steelers, Hines Ward suffered a concussion in the Patriots game. Ward is on record as saying he is going to play, but he will have to pass the post concussion tests, before he is cleared to play. Brett Keisel, who has been sidelined with a hamstring injury, will hope to make his return to this game as will RG Chris Kemoeatu.