Raiders gut out big win over Steelers, 34-31

The Raiders didn’t lead in the game until the clock struck 0:00 at the end of the 4th quarter but luckily for Dennis Allen and company, that’s the only time having the lead makes any difference.   The Raiders were able to overcome a stout Pittsburgh defense to score the game’s last 13 points, all in the 4th quarter, to win on a 44 yard Sebastian Janikowski field goal as time expired.

The team showed impressive desire to win the game, rallying to win the game despite dealing with multiple injuries.  Some of those injuries were known before the game –like the two starting cornerbacks both being out –but the Raiders also had to overcome injuries in game.

Starting WR Darrius Heyward-Bey was knocked out on a deep route that took him into the endzone.  He was crossing for a ball thrown maybe a moment too late by Palmer and as the ball got there so did safety Ryan Mundy.  Mundy’s helmet came up into DHB’s facemask and Heyward-Bey crumpled to the ground, rolling once until coming to a stop without moving.  He was later taken off the field on a cart although he did give a thumbs off as he went off the field, to the cheer of the crowd.

After the game Allen & Palmer both said that signs out of the hospital were good.  DHB had regained consciousness, was able to move and talk.  It’s been announced that he will be staying overnight in the hospital for observation but it seems likely that he will be able to be released in short order.  It seems unlikely that he would recover from such a serious concussion for next week’s game and the week after is the Raiders’ bye week so there is no need to hurry him back for next week’s game versus Denver and the team can instead focus on having him back versus Atlanta in week 6.

It was reported after the game that starting TE Brandon Myers also had suffered a concussion in the game.  His was much more minor and it’s entirely possible that he’ll be able to suit up next week.  That would be a big help for the Raiders because Myers has turned into quite a good safety valve for Palmer. 

Myers was again the top receiver for the Raiders – in terms of yards – with 4 catches for 55 yards on the day.  He caught every ball that was thrown to him on the night and, per ESPN, has caught every ball thrown to him for the season – a perfect 15 for 15.

Palmer also utilized the other tight ends, tossing a TD pass to backup Richard Gordon – his first career TD reception – and he used David Ausberry for a nice short throw that the former receiver was able to take 13 yards for a first down.

The biggest difference for the Raiders offense, though, was the running game which opened up more passing lanes than the team was used to this season.

It got started on the first run – McFadden took the ball behind the RG and blew through the line and into the secondary.  He was able to juke his way around he safety and scooted 64 yards for his first TD of the year.

After allowing the long TD run, however, the Steeler defense clamped down to shut down the run for most of the rest of the first half.  Unsurprisingly the Raiders struggled to move the ball during that time, scoring only one more time and that mostly coming from great field position after running back Jonathan Dwyer fumbled the football and CB Joselio Hanson was able to recover it.

The second half opened up some running lanes, though, and the Steelers once potent defense was unable to create difference-making plays.  They hit Palmer at times but Palmer was still able to make difficult throws downfield.  The Steelers were only able to sack Palmer once in the game.

The Steelers also had one INT – on the first play of the game – but that was because WR Denarius Moore slipped when transitioning from the grass to the dirt on Oakland’s playing surface and the safety behind him had a gift thrown almost right to him with no receiver there.

The Raiders were also positive in the turnover ratio for the first time in the three games they’ve played this season. 

The Raiders only had the interception mentioned above while creating 3 fumbles, recovering two.  The second fumble was courtesy of Pat Lee who stripped receiver Antonio Brown in the third quarter.  It was perhaps the biggest momentum change of the day as it was 31-28 and Pittsburgh was driving the field.  The Steelers had scored on their last two possessions prior to the fumble and Oakland desperately needed a spark.

The win was satisfying in part because it was an entire team win.  While none of the squads were completely dominant, each made plays when they needed to and mostly avoided having big plays against them.  Special Teams was able to make a big play when the Raiders needed a spark with Mike Goodson taking a kickoff return 51 yards in the 3rd quarter.  The special teams was able to avoid some of the costly breakdowns that had plagued them in the past, too, although they did allow a punt return to be taken 72 yards for a TD and were lucky that it was nullified by a holding penalty.

The coaching staff has to be commended for the win.  Dennis Allen, especially, set the tone for the day by taking risks and putting his players in a position to win.  Early in the game, there was a fourth and goal play that Allen put his team in to try and get the TD.   By putting his team back in to convert he showed them that he was all-in for winning and not trying to play it safe. I think the team really responded to that.

The play call was brilliant. Greg Knapp called up a fantastic play in which the Raiders lined up in one formation and then suddenly shifted to an entirely different one.  I’m not even sure if they planned on running a play, the goal of the play call may have been to confuse and worry the defense by rapidly changing things to put stress on the defense as to what kind of play it would be.  It’s entirely possible that the call was simply to draw the defense offsides.

If that was the purpose of the call, it worked.  Ziggy Hood came across the line and ran into LG Cooper Carlisle who fell back a bit and drew the neutral zone infraction call.  The Raiders were awarded a fresh new set of downs, accordingly and instead of settling for a field goal, their next play was a TD pass on a fade to Heyward-Bey.

Allen also called a gutsy surprise onside kick barely into the second half.  The attempt didn’t work – the ball went out of bounds without being recovered by either team – but I think the call and the aggressive nature of going for it all out rubbed off on the rest of the team.  That type of play call is hard to make, but it was the right thing to do when playing a difficult opponent like Pittsburgh.

Also to be commended was defensive coordinator Jason Tarver’s scheme.  The defense wasn’t perfect and it struggled through much of the night with the Steelers passing attack.  But it didn’t allow too many big plays – something that the Steelers look to get – and it was able to create two turnovers.

The defensive game plan seemed to be to work in zone a lot and not allow receivers to get deep. The Raiders played soft defense a lot, preferring to give up yards underneath their coverage instead of letting the Steelers go over the top of them.  That meant the Steelers offense had some very long drives but also meant the Steelers had to continually execute to move down the field. When there were drops or miscommunications by the Steelers, the Raiders were able to force punts.

Greg Knapp's offense also stepped up and executed in both the run and pass games. McFadden ended with 113 yards on 18 carries and Palmer ended with 3 TDs and 1 INT while completing over 70% of his passes.

Finally, the team ended with only 3 more penalties for 25 yards,  the second week in a row they’ve had only 3 penalties.  The team now has 11 penalties for the year, totaling 61 yards.  In comparison, the Steelers had 10 penalties for 81 yards in this game alone.

Or, to put it another way, last season the Raiders averaged basically 10 penalties for 85 yards per game each game last year.  This year, through three games, they have only 11 penalties for only 61 yards, a remarkable improvement.

In all, this was a team win with each part of the team struggling at times and making plays at other times.   The Raiders could not afford to drop 0-3 if they had any hope of making the playoffs this year.  Now, they face a tough but beatable Denver next week in Denver and could go into their bye a much more solid 2-2.  There is a lot of football left to play but for one week, at least, Raider Nation can be happy with their team’s success.

For more Raiders news & analysis, follow me on Twitter @AsherMathews

Asher Mathews

About Asher Mathews

Head writer for TFDS Sports, covering the Oakland Raiders and NFL at large. Proud Purdue alum. Follow me on Twitter!