Week 8 of the 2013 NFL regular season will be a defining moment for many teams in the league, including the Pittsburgh Steelers. Next week, that season will be halfway gone. The Steelers and the Raiders (in Los Angeles and Oakland) have a storied history, and head coach Mike Tomlin reinforced it to veterans and introduced it to his younger players this week. Pittsburgh needs things to swing their way, but both teams are sitting at 2-4 and seek their third win. At O.com Stadium, memories of the "Immaculate Reception" may enter the minds of many, but most likely the two teams will use the rivalry to play a game that will be physical, emotional and highly charged.
The Raiders own the overall record between the two clubs, 13-11. In the times Oakland has hosted Pittsburgh, they have an 8-3 record. The "Black Hole" has often sucked teams in and demoralized them. The Steelers have lost three of the four meetings in the 2000s. The fact that those Raiders teams weren't .500 teams was even more disappointing to Pittsburgh. In 2006, the Raiders were able to finish their season with a record of 2-14, but beat the Steelers 20-13 at home. A similar result occurred in 2009 when the Raiders came to Heinz Field and beat the Steelers 27-24 but only finished 5-11 on the season. Last season, the Raiders finished 4-12 yet beat the Steelers 34-31. The meeting in 2010 at Heinz Field resulted in a 35-3 final score for the Steelers, but the Steelers were a great team that year with a record of 12-4.
Whether or not it is the ghost of Al Davis that curses the Steelers or not, head coach Mike Tomlin felt it was necessary to share the history of the Pittsburgh/Oakland rivalry in an effort to reinforce what went right. The very definition of physicality, similar to meetings with the Baltimore Ravens in the last decade, the 1970s games were some of the toughest in history. 22 Hall of Fame players for Pittsburgh lived the story of the rivalry. Five meetings between the two teams resulted in playoff meetings from 1972-76. The two teams played against each other in AFC title games three of those years (1974-76). Famed receiver Lynn Swann was carried off the field by a teammate; Joe Greene. Bloody noses, broken fingers and under-the-pile nastiness wasn't uncommon. The Raiders organization still considers the "Immaculate Reception" to have been a bad call by officials, taking something from Franco Harris' efforts.
“You knew the history, but you didn't know it was that deep,” Taylor said. “Coach T broke it down to us. You knew (it was a big rivalry), but now you kind of respect how they played in the 1970s.”
The 2013 Steelers are a completely different team. While quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has a passer rating of 90.7, the offensive line will need to play as hard as they did against the Baltimore Ravens in order to allow the offense to control the clock and score. If the Steelers are able to utilize the Wildcat offense more often, Le'Veon Bell and Felix Jones should be able to create more rushing yards, maintaining a balance. The Steelers can't be one-dimensional. The Raiders are 12th overall (ninth rushing, 16th passing) on defense, but Oakland is the only team in the NFL this season to not have allowed a run of 20 yards or longer. The Raiders' defensive backs have added six sacks to the team's total of 16. However, opponents have completed 68.3 percent of their passes against Oakland.
Pittsburgh has an opportunity to keep Oakland one-dimensional if they shut down the run, especially when it comes to quarterback Terrelle Pryor. The Raiders are ninth rushing in the NFL this season and are averaging 129.2 yards rushing per game. If the Steelers' defensive front can force Pryor to stay in the pocket and contain Darren McFadden and the run, they have a five defensive backs option to completely shut down the Raiders. Oakland is 32nd in the league in passing.
No matter the odds, this game is bound to be a trench battle and a rough-and-tumble exhibition on both sides for a full sixty minutes.