One of the big positives to emerge from the Raiders’ offense in two games—and there have not been many, for a team that has scored 27 total points—has been the pass blocking along the offensive line. The Raiders came out of Week 2 as the only team in the NFL to not allow a sack.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Raiders have the top grade when it comes to pass-blocking, at 82.3. That’s well ahead of No. 2 in the league, the Packers (79.4).
The Steelers defense, meanwhile, is No. 3 in the NFL in sacks this season, with nine through two games. No doubt, the Raiders have not seen pass-rushers like Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith yet this season.
When told of the Raiders’ perfect sack record to date, linebacker Kwon Alexander smiled and said, “Yeah, well. We got two dogs on the end, so … We gonna see about that, for sure.”
Watt Poses Special Challenge
The Steelers’ defense does figure to pose serious problems for the Raiders, and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s tendency to get rid of the ball quickly should be helpful in Week 3. It will help, too, that the Raiders have receiver Jakobi Meyers back, and that Davante Adams (who took a hit to the head late in the Week 2 loss to Buffalo) will be on the field, too.
Garoppolo is going to need as many weapons as he can get on Sunday.
“(Dang) good defense,” Garoppolo said of the Steelers. “They made some plays, put some points up on the board, so it’s going to be a good challenge for us this week. We have to do our part on offense.”
Part of that will be a continued good effort up front, both in pass protection and in opening holes for running back Josh Jacobs, who was held to minus-2 yard running in Week 2.
The pass rushers are offensive coordinator Mick Lombardi’s big concern. Watt leads the NFL with 4.0 sacks, but five other Steelers have sacks, too.
“We have to do a good job of making sure we’re ready to know that and ready to go because whether it’s T.J. Watt on the edge, or it’s Highsmith on the edge, or we talked about the secondary,” Lombardi said. “They are all going to play as one and if you don’t play as one on that unit, you’re probably not going to play on the unit. We got to be ready to go because it’s an aggressive, fast and physical defense.”
Another Warning: Steelers Fans Travel Well
Another potential challenge for the Raiders—the traveling Steelers fans. Las Vegas is always going to attract visiting NFL fans seeking refuge from the misery of eastern climes, but Pittsburghers are especially eager to get out of the Pennsylvania hills to root on the Steelers.
That was the case, for example, in 2021 when the Steelers played the Chargers in Los Angeles, and some estimates had the Southern California crowd at 80% in favor of Pittsburgh.
“I am very confident there’s going to be a lot of Steelers fans out there and they’re going to create an awesome atmosphere for us,” Highsmith said. “We went out to L.A. a couple years ago and it was insane. I know Steel Nation is going to show up and show out.”