View Full Version : Raiders-Steelers matchup has feel of past AFC playoff duels

11-20-2010, 10:54 PM
Raiders-Steelers matchup has feel of past AFC playoff duels

By Steve Corkran

Posted: 11/20/2010 06:16:04 PM PST
Updated: 11/20/2010 06:16:06 PM PST

The Raiders and the Pittsburgh Steelers once battled for AFC supremacy on an annual basis. They squared off in the playoffs five consecutive seasons in the 1970s, including three straight seasons in the AFC championship game.

Today, it's as if the clock has been turned back to a time when the bad boys of the AFC convened for bragging rights, with playoff implications omnipresent. The Raiders enter the game at 5-4 and tied for the AFC West lead. The Steelers are tied for the AFC North lead at 6-3.

"This is awesome," said Raiders coach Tom Cable, who is steeped in the Raiders tradition. "This is awesome. "... We've earned the right to be in games like this now."

The Raiders earned that right by virtue of winning their past three games and by doing so in a style befitting Raiders and Steelers teams from the 70s.

They ran the ball at will, used powerful linemen to dominate the line of scrimmage on offense and defense and dictated the tenor of the games.

"We're becoming "... as physical a football team as we can," Cable said. "You only do that by growing each week. We have imposed our will a little bit on some people, and we're continuing to try to learn how to do that and get better at it."

In other words, the Raiders are evolving into the kind of team they used to be when they ruled the AFC West and challenged the Steelers for the right to be called the AFC's best team.

It is no surprise, then, that Cable expects a
rough and rugged game, where 3 or 4 yards a pop, field position and being more physical than the opponent count for everything.

Front and center figures to be how the Raiders fare running the ball against a team hellbent on stopping the run.

The Steelers' top-ranked run defense has allowed 569 yards in nine games. To put that in perspective, the Raiders amassed 567 yards rushing in back-to-back victories over the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks.

Opponents average a paltry 2.8 yards per carry against the Steelers. That's more than one-half yard less than the next-best team against the run.

Something has to give. The Raiders are second in the league in rushing at an average of 162.2 yards per game and third at an average of 4.9 yards per carry.

Oakland running back Darren McFadden said it's not going to be the Raiders giving ground because they now have the attitude that they are supposed to win every game.

Beating the Steelers would be the type of win that could silence critics who still aren't convinced that the Raiders are now a legitimate playoff contender after losing at least 11 games each of the past seven seasons.

"It's always going to be one of those questions,'' McFadden said. "I feel like people are just expecting us any time to fall back into (playing like) last year's team, but I don't think that's something we're going to do.

"If we can go out there and put up a win against Pittsburgh, we're going to be able to show people that we are a for-real team.''

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger endured a four-game suspension at the start of the season and has played as if he started every game.

He said he has noticed a change in the Raiders team this season and that it bears little resemblance to the one he played against last season and in 2006.

Said Roethlisberger: "They are playing (like), 'We're better than you. We're going to beat you one-on-one. We're going to beat you one-on-one up front. We're just going to prove that we're bigger, badder and tougher.' "

That's precisely what Cable wants other teams to think and how he wants his team to be from here on out. And when today's game ends, he is hopeful people will feel as if they watched a rerun of a Raiders-Steelers game from yesteryear.

"The thing that you remember about those teams playing is, they just beat the tar out of each other," Cable said. "There's no other way to look at it. Both teams were really good on the line of scrimmage; both teams had good receivers and good running backs.

"You just remember somebody would make a play, but the rest of the game just seemed like an old-fashioned street fight, and that's what you remember."

11-20-2010, 11:45 PM
Raiders-Steelers storied rivalry renews
http://msn.foxsports.com/nfl/story/pitt ... is-rivalry (http://msn.foxsports.com/nfl/story/pittsburgh-steelers-oakland-raiders-dan-rooney-al-davis-rivalry)
Alex Marvez is a Senior NFL Writer for FOXSports.com. He's covered the NFL for the past 16 seasons as a beat writer and is the former president of the Pro Football Writers of America.

Updated Nov 20, 2010 8:31 PM ET

It may finally be time for a new chapter about what was one of the NFL’s most storied rivalries.

With a 5-4 record and first-place AFC West standing, the Oakland Raiders have become relevant in the playoff race once again, like the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3). This means Sunday’s Raiders-Steelers game at Heinz Field has the potential to create some lasting memories that could augment the iconic images of Jack Lambert, Ken Stabler and the Immaculate Reception.

While much has changed for both franchises since their storied 1970s matchups, one thing has remained constant: team ownership. Al Davis (Oakland) and the Rooney family (Pittsburgh) have butted heads for 40 years through their respective squads and when helping to shape the NFL’s policies and direction in league meetings. The two franchises have radically different ideologies but share a common bond as family-run organizations without major outside business ventures.

“He’s always brought to the league a drive and desire to have a competitive team and a viewpoint from the football side of things that maybe some owners don’t,” Steelers president Art Rooney II told FOXSports.com about Davis. “Al thinks about football first. There’s no question about that.”

Critics would claim Davis thought too much about football in recent years, handicapping his coaching staff with persistent and counterproductive meddling. But if he is going to take the blame for Oakland losing 11 or more games each of the past seven seasons, Davis, 81, also deserves credit for the personnel moves that helped the 2010 Raiders get back on track. Oakland has won three consecutive games for the best start since its 2002 Super Bowl squad.

“His detractors, you don’t hear them chirping as much now,” said Hall of Fame wide receiver James Lofton, a former Raiders player and assistant coach. “It’s nice to see him get a little bit of due again.”

Now an NFL analyst for Westwood One Radio, Lofton in 2007 was a candidate for the Raiders’ head coaching position that went to Lane Kiffin. Lofton served as the team’s wide receivers coach in 2008 on the same staff that includes current head coach Tom Cable.

Lofton believes Cable has the type of agreeable personality that allows him to successfully coexist with Davis, who has overseen nine different head coaching reigns in the past 17 seasons.

“This is going to sound corny,” Lofton said, “But being a former offensive lineman, Tom appreciates the work it takes to build a team, to be a team player and give that singular commitment you have to have.”

This type of owner-coach relationship has proven disastrous for the Raiders in the past, yet it continues. For example, it’s widely believed that Davis overruled Cable’s desire to reinstate a healthy Bruce Gradkowski ahead of Jason Campbell at quarterback for the Steelers game.

For most teams, such a move would cause the head coach to lose locker-room respect. But it seems Oakland players have learned to accept how the team will operate as long as Davis is at the helm. As tackle Langston Walker told USA Today earlier this week: “He runs the team but we’re winning, so who cares? It’s a bigger issue when we’re losing and you wonder about the weird things that go on.”

Like his father and grandfather, Art Rooney also has a strong presence around his team. Rooney, though, leaves the X's and O's to his top football capos: head coach Mike Tomlin and personnel director Kevin Colbert.

“Our philosophy has been hiring good football people and getting out of their way,” said Rooney, who assumed the team presidency from his father Dan in 2003. “I talk to Mike and Kevin every day. My father was the same way. We’re here but we’re not trying to call the plays, design the offense or anything like that.”

That isn’t to say Rooney is a wallflower. After failing to make the playoffs last season, Rooney stressed to Tomlin that he wanted to see a greater emphasis on the running game that had stopped becoming a Steelers staple.

Rooney also was directly involved in what he admits was the toughest football challenge of his presidency: The fallout of Ben Roethlisberger’s off-field indiscretions. The star quarterback received a four-game NFL suspension and embarrassed a club that values what the Steelers brand has come to represent.

Unlike with another Steelers player (wide receiver Santonio Holmes) who got into trouble last offseason, Rooney decided against ordering a Roethlisberger trade while also assuring fans that the matter would be dealt with accordingly.

“That was something where we all had to put our heads together and decide how we were going to handle it,” Rooney said. “The key to it was for us to be satisfied that he was committed to doing what was necessary to sort-of right the ship and understand he needed to do better as a person. Just working through those things took a lot of time.

“Certainly, there was a lot of fan feedback and pieces to the puzzle that we had to communicate — how we were handling it, what our expectations were and kind of reinforce the fact that we weren’t changing our expectations of people. On the other hand, if somebody is able to correct a mistake in their life, we do feel like people deserve a second chance if they had a commitment to making that work. As we went through it, it was certainly something that wasn’t just a football kind of decision. It was a little bit unusual in that regard.”

Roethlisberger has avoided further trouble and apologized repeatedly for the actions that made him a pariah among some Steelers fans and teammates. Rooney, though, said Roethlisberger is still in the process of making amends.

“I think the key thing for him, which he understands, is that it doesn’t happen overnight,” said Rooney, whose team gave Roethlisberger an eight-year, $102 million contract extension in 2008. “He’s going to have to demonstrate the fact that he has changed, that he does have the commitment to be the kind of leader of the organization that we think he can be. He’s still in the process of winning some of the fans back and going through all of those kinds of things.

“The situation he put himself in … He’s got to learn — and he has learned — that he’s got to do better. I’m satisfied he’s done what it takes and that he understands it’s an ongoing commitment he has to have.”

Rooney said he tries to speak with Roethlisberger “a few times a week,” but such player outreach isn’t unusual. Rooney is a fixture inside Steelers headquarters whether watching practice, conducting business meetings or working out in the weight room

“He does pull-ups,” Steelers rookie outside linebacker Jason Worilds said. “That’s cool as hell.”

So is the smooth style in which the sturdily-built, blue-eyed Rooney interacts with his charges.

“It’s different here,” Steelers reserve quarterback and Pittsburgh-area native Charlie Batch said. “People who have been other places, that’s one of the first things they notice. His office is in the corner. If you want to walk back there, his door is always open.”

Along the way, Steelers players will pass six glass-encased Lombardi Trophies inside the team’s library. Judging by how this season is unfolding, it isn’t that much of a stretch to think Pittsburgh and Oakland may be jostling for another title in the postseason.

“There’s no question: The Raiders-Steelers rivalry has been a great thing down through the years,” Rooney said. “Any time our two teams meet when so much is on the line and both teams are fighting to stay in first place in the division, we’re excited about it.”

11-21-2010, 12:12 AM
Streaking Raiders want to keep momentum against Steelers

By Associated Press

Even with their worst home loss since 2006 fresh in their minds and an injury list that keeps growing, the Pittsburgh Steelers say they're not headed for another midseason collapse.

Beating a team that played a significant part in last season's downfall would be a good way to prove it.

The Oakland Raiders were in last place when they stunned the Steelers at Heinz Field last year, but they'll be looking to keep at least a share of the AFC West lead by earning a fourth straight win Sunday.

Through the first half of this season, Pittsburgh seemed to show few similarities to the team that lost five in a row in 2009. That slide, however, began after a 6-2 start, the same record the Steelers brought into Sunday night's showdown with New England.

Pittsburgh (6-3) didn't look anything like a team that could take over sole possession of first place in the AFC North, letting Tom Brady throw for 350 yards in a 39-26 loss.

The defeat was the Steelers' worst at Heinz Field since falling 31-7 to Baltimore on Dec. 24, 2006.

"You can't start dredging up things from the past," safety Ryan Clark said. "This is one night, and one night we need to get better from. Obviously, for our defense, it hurts more because we're not used to playing this way. We're not used to giving up yardage the way we did."

Big days by opposing quarterbacks turned into a theme for the Steelers in last season's second half with safety Troy Polamalu sidelined. However, Pittsburgh has been getting routinely burned in 2010 with the former All-Pro healthy.

Pittsburgh has allowed 272.6 passing yards per game since Oct. 17, sixth most in the league.

"We did take a hit. No excuses," cornerback Ike Taylor said. "We have to come back and do what we need to do, feed off of this and make sure it doesn't happen again."
The performance cost one Steeler his job. Jeff Reed was cut two days after missing a 26-yard field goal -- his seventh miss of the season. The team replaced him with Shaun Suisham.

The Steelers led or were tied in the fourth quarter of the first four losses during their '09 skid, but in no quarter were they worse than the fourth against the Raiders on Dec. 6. Bruce Gradkowski helped Oakland pile up 223 yards in the final 15 minutes and the Raiders scored three touchdowns in the last 8:21 of a 27-24 victory.

That was a Raiders team that was more than a two-touchdown underdog heading in at 3-8, but Tom Cable's club is no longer playing spoiler. Oakland (5-4) has won three straight, the latest 23-20 over Kansas City on Nov. 7.

The Raiders then experienced their best week off in quite a while. Denver's win over the Chiefs lifted Oakland into a tie atop the division, the first time it's been there this late in the season since 2002.

That was the last time the Raiders won at least four straight, part of a five-game run.

"People are really going to start talking about us for playoff contention if we do that," safety Mike Mitchell said. "Everything that we've done up to this point is going to come down to what we do Sunday. We just want to keep all that momentum going."

This time at Heinz Field, they'll have Jason Campbell under center. Cable initially said Pittsburgh native Gradkowski would regain the starting job when he recovered from a shoulder injury, but Campbell has given the offense a boost. He's thrown five touchdowns and one pick while posting a 104.3 passer rating during the winning streak.

In Darrius Heyward-Bey and Jacoby Ford -- who had 306 all-purpose yards against the Chiefs -- the Raiders certainly have the speed to give the Steelers' secondary trouble again. Additionally, tight end Zach Miller and receiver Louis Murphy -- who caught two touchdowns last season in Pittsburgh -- are expected to return.

Darren McFadden, averaging 5.4 yards per carry, will be facing a Pittsburgh run defense that gave up 100 yards against New England for the first time since end Aaron Smith was injured.

Leading tackler Lawrence Timmons has a hip pointer, but is likely to play Sunday.

Who's healthy on either side could play a big role in what Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers do. Guard Chris Kemoeatu and receiver Hines Ward are expected back for Pittsburgh, while star cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and tackle John Henderson are questionable for Oakland.

The Raiders have surrendered 236.0 yards per game during their winning streak.

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