Steelers can't afford another loss to Raiders
The Steelers must avoid falling into a black hole in Oakland, and they know it.
With the Steelers (2-4) probably needing to go 8-2 in their final 10 games to assure themselves of reaching the playoffs, they can't afford yet another bad loss to a bad Raiders team — something that's occurred three times in seven seasons.
Just such losses in 2006, 2009 and 2012 — to Raiders teams that won only 11 games combined in those three seasons — ultimately cost the Steelers any chance for the playoffs.
Losing Sunday at O.co Coliseum, known as the Black Hole because the black-bedecked fans can be as menacing and intimidating as the team they support, could be just as punishing to a Steelers team that finally has some confidence and momentum.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is 1-3 against Oakland, throwing 10 touchdown passes but five interceptions.
“I don't think there's anything mystical about it,” Roethlisberger said Tuesday on his radio show. “Obviously, it's a big-time tradition football team — the Black Hole, the fans. And I've been asked, is it the West Coast? Is it the field? No, they just happened to beat us the last couple of times we played there.”
There's also this: The Steelers seem to struggle whenever they leave the confines of their own time zone. They've lost their past seven games outside the Eastern time zone, dating to a Nov. 27, 2011, win at Kansas City, and they're 0-4 on the West Coast since beating San Diego in 2005.
“Obviously, they are a group that provides some concern for us for a lot of reasons,” coach Mike Tomlin said.
Tomlin's chief worry about the Raiders (2-4) isn't the venue or the recent history but the emergence of former Jeannette star Terrelle Pryor as a multi-dimensional threat.
Pryor's 84.8 quarterback rating is higher than that of multiple Super Bowl winners Tom Brady and Eli Manning, and he has run for 285 yards — more than any Steelers player. He also has a 6.5 yards-per-carry average.
“He's a guy to deal with,” Tomlin said. “I think they utilize his skill set nicely in their offense, some zone-read stuff, some designed runs and pocket movements. He has a nice touch on his ball. He is throwing a good deep ball. He is really doing a nice job of staying within himself and working with the pieces that he has around him.”
Mobile quarterbacks — see Tim Tebow — also have been a problem for the Steelers, so Tomlin said it's a necessity for his defense to remain disciplined.
Another concern to Tomlin is that inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons, the Steelers' most consistent defensive player, will play with a broken left hand he suffered late in the Ravens game Sunday. He is wearing a cast but, Tomlin said, has mobility in his fingers.
Timmons made 17 tackles against Baltimore and leads the Steelers with 66, or 22 more than any other player. Timmons' presence on the inside makes it less likely Pryor will attempt any tricky running between the tackles; Pryor has been sacked 20 times — only one fewer than Roethlisberger.
What the Steelers can't afford to do is get sacked in Oakland, unless they are to put themselves in a position where they must win out to reach the postseason.
“We're still in a hole, and we're trying to get out,” Roethlisberger said.
And, this time, he didn't mean the Black Hole.