The Las Vegas Raiders travel east this week to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers, in what is sure to be an intriguing AFC showdown. The Raiders are on a short week, as they pulled off an emotional 33-27 overtime victory over the Baltimore Ravens on “Monday Night Football.” The Steelers recorded an upset win of their own in Week 1, rallying from 10-0 at halftime to defeat the Buffalo Bills, 23-16.
The Raiders lead the all-time series against the Steelers, 13-10, and have won three out of the past four meetings. Derek Carr has his work cut out for him against this voracious defense, but his playmakers proved they can step up when it matters most on Monday night.
CBS Sports broadcaster Evan Washburn will be on site for the network this Sunday, but he sat down with us earlier this week to preview this matchup. He had some interesting thoughts on the defenses featured in this game. Before we get to our preview, here’s how you can watch this AFC showdown on Sunday.
How to watch
Storylines to watch
Steelers’ dominant D
The Steelers have one of the best defenses in the league, and it showed in Week 1. They held Josh Allen’s offense to just one touchdown, strip-sacked him once and blocked a punt for a touchdown. There are many who have doubts about Ben Roethlisberger and this offense in general, but the defense is good enough to keep them in the win column.
“This defense has a chance to be really special, and they have been building toward that over the last few seasons,” Washburn said. “But make no mistake, they won that game along with special teams. Yes, the offense woke up in the second half and made enough plays to win that game, but it was the defense and then a big play on special teams that to me were the story of (the game).
“This team is going to go as far — at least in the first half of the season as they find their way offensively — as the defense will take them. And based off of the way they played in that game against a really, really dynamic offense, the defense could take this team to some impressive places.”
When asked what he learned about this Raiders team in Week 1, Washburn responded by simply saying their resiliency. This team was down 14-0 in the first half and it looked like Carr just didn’t have it in him to pull out a victory. The Raiders kept chipping away, however, and made some big plays in pivotal situations.
After Justin Tucker’s 47-yard field goal with 37 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Carr marched his offense 38 yards down the field on five plays to set up Daniel Carlson with a 55-yard field goal to tie the game. Even after Carr threw an unlucky interception in overtime, backup defensive end Carl Nassib stripped Jackson to get possession back. The resilience this team showed on Monday night says a lot about its potential. The Raiders can not only handle adversity, but win pivotal downs in a tight game.
“There was everything stacked up for Las Vegas to find a way to lose that game and all they did was find a way to win it,” Washburn said.
Who will cover Darren Waller?
The biggest question for the Steelers entering this week is who will handle Waller? The star tight end caught 10 passes for 105 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown on Monday night. He was targeted a whopping 19 times in the passing game, which set a career high for the Georgia Tech product. According to NFL.com, Waller tied for the most targets in a single game by a Raiders player since 1992. As for tight ends, only Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez recorded more in a single game since 1992.
After the game, Raiders head coach Jon Gruden went as far to say that Waller is the best player he has ever coached, and that he’s going to continue to ride him on offense. So, who will be responsible for covering Waller on Sunday?
The Ravens used a committee approach with Waller, and it’s safe to assume the Steelers will as well. Washburn pointed out that Pittsburgh used a committee at slot corner last week with Mike Hilton gone, plus safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds will likely be in on the rotation as well. This could be the X factor of Sunday’s matchup.
Continued development of Raiders defense
The Raiders had consistency issues last season, but they were the only team in the regular season to defeat Patrick Mahomes. The offense has potential, but the defense is where their perceived weak spot is. Las Vegas actually had a decent showing on defense in Week 1. Maxx Crosby sacked Jackson twice and the Raiders recovered two fumbles as well. This team has talent on paper, but with new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, is 2021 when this unit will finally get it together?
“The continued development of the Raiders defense,” Washburn replied when asked for the most underrated storyline in this matchup. “We saw them flash, Maxx Crosby was really impressive over the course of that Monday night game, but Yannick Ngakoue goes down with a hamstring, Carl Nassib steps in pretty seamlessly and makes the biggest play at least down the stretch of that game. But can you back it up? Gus Bradley steps in there at defensive coordinator and brings in a lot of pieces that he’s familiar with whether it be on the staff or in personnel, and they just seem much better. They seem more explosive and dynamic defensively.”
Latest Odds: Pittsburgh Steelers -6
On its face, this matchup could come down to Carr and his ability to not only score points, but take care of the ball against this tough Steelers defense. That’s how Washburn sees a potential route to victory for Las Vegas.
“To me, it’s about not necessarily going blow for blow in a shootout like they did against Baltimore,” he said. “I view it more as avoid the big mistake offensively, try to take the plays that are there and that are available and then defensively, just trying to bottle up that Pittsburgh offense.”
Still, this Steelers team will have the backing of their home crowd, which will only amp up the defense. Our lean is to the Steelers to win on Sunday and move to 2-0.
Pick: Steelers 30, Raiders 24