Steelers to face Raiders secondary of unknowns
By Alan Robinson
Published: Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
The Raiders' secondary looks nothing like it did when the Steelers played Oakland in 2010. Then again, it doesn't look much like it did a couple of weeks ago.
Don't know the names? Not many of the Steelers do, either.
The Steelers once knew what they would see whenever they met the Raiders: A lockdown corner in Nnamdi Asomugha. Some of the NFL's tightest man-to-man coverage. A very tough day at the office.
All that's changed as the Steelers (1-1) get ready for their first trip to Oakland since 2006, one that involves an element of curiosity to learn what cornerbacks will oppose Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders.
“(They've got a) depleted secondary,” Roethlisberger said Wednesday. “They've got a lot of corners with injuries. We'll see how it goes.”
After the Raiders finished an uncharacteristically low 27th in pass defense last season, down from No. 2 the season before when Asomugha still hadn't left for Philadelphia, new general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen shed every cornerback on the roster.
Gone are 2011 starters Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson, a pair of salary cap discards, plus their backups. In their place are a cast assembled mostly via the waiver wire: Joselio Hanson (Eagles), Pat Lee (Packers), Shawntae Spencer (49ers), Phillip Adams (Seahawks), Coye Francies (Seahawks). The latest: undrafted free agent Brandian Ross, picked up Wednesday off the Packers' practice squad.
Also cast off was DeMarcus Van Dyke, a 2011 third-round draft pick who has since landed with the Steelers.
“They wanted to bring their own guys in,” said Van Dyke, who was cut by Oakland two weeks ago. “McKenzie is a great guy, but he has new ideas. It's pretty crazy, but they're trying to find their own team.”
Opening-game cornerback starters Ron Bartell (shoulder) and Spencer (sprained foot) are injured; Spencer, the former Pitt starter, doesn't know if he'll be ready for the Steelers. Bartell is on injured reserve.
“It's a guessing game. We can't go in and watch film on a particular guy and how he plays his position; we can only work off their schemes and their zones and things of that sort,” Sanders said. “We're working hard to understand who's going to play over there and what they're playing over there.”
Even the style is changing.
“Most of the time Oakland plays a lot of bump, but now they're mixing it up with a zone and man at the same time,” Sanders said.
Raiders safeties Michael Huff and Tyvon Branch are solid, but this mystery cast of cornerbacks will be primarily responsible for trying to shut down Wallace, who has two touchdown catches; Brown, who has a team-high 11 catches; and Sanders, who averages 12.6 yards per catch.
“These guys are going to come in motivated,” Wallace said. “They want to keep a job or not get cut. These guys are going to have something to prove, so you've got to be ready.”
The Raiders (0-2) rank eighth in pass defense, but that's partly the result of the Chargers and Dolphins rushing for 295 yards. Reggie Bush ran for 172 yards and two touchdowns during the Dolphins' 35-13 win Sunday.
In a week when there are numerous questions about the Steelers' ability to get their 30th-ranked rushing game going, the best way to attack the Raiders might be up top and often.
“We need to take advantage of it,” Wallace said. “We need to be even more amped up, even more locked in, because we have opportunities.”
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Panthers free agent safety headed to Steelers
- Keisel might be at end of Steelers career
- Steelers to release LaMarr Woodley; Taylor restructures contract
- Analysis: Steelers could fill needs with free agents while not spending big bucks
- With so many needs, Steelers can ill afford to miss in draft
- Kovacevic: Big Ben’s contract clock ticking