The Pittsburgh Steelers offense that comes into Oakland Sunday has so far been a one-dimensional unit.
The Steelers are averaging 237 yards per game through the air, eighth best in the NFL, with four touchdown passes. Meanwhile they are last in the league in rushing, averaging just 2.6 yards per carry.
Couple that with Oakland’s crippled and hastily revamped secondary, and it’s no secret where the Steelers will attack the Raiders this Sunday.
First down, pass. Second down, pass. If necessary, pass again.
Since the Raiders lost cornerback Shawntae Spencer last Sunday in Miami, Oakland has been busy trying to patch together a new secondary.
Spencer and Ronald Bartell – the other starting corner in the season opener – are both down and out with injuries. The two backup corners now pressed into duty, Pat Lee and Joselio Hanson, have struggled, particularly in a loss to the Dolphins in Miami this past Sunday when the Raiders dropped to 0-2.
Now, the Raiders are experimenting with moving safety Michael Huff to corner, and on Wednesday signed cornerback Brandian Ross from the Green Bay Packers practice squad.
“Next guy has to step up,” said Hanson this week. “That’s why you have depth on a team. In the NFL, everybody can play, so the next guy has to step up.”
If Huff plays some corner this Sunday, Matt Giordano would take Huff’s spot at safety.
“Huff is an all-aroung guy,” Lee told the Associated Press of his teammate. “He’s a good player. He can do whatever out there on the field. He’s going to do his job. That’s Huff.”
According to STATS LLC, both Lee and Hanson were vulnerable last week: Hanson allowed five catches in six attempts against him for 58 yards; Lee allowed four catches in six throws for 56 yards.
Said Lee: “We just have to pick it up. Guys that are backing up just have to do what we have to do and do our jobs right.”
Against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, that will be a challenge. The veteran QB, who’s won two Super Bowls, has converted 19-of-34 third-down situations and appears to be in sync with a strong set of receivers.
The Raiders’ acquisition of Ross may not pay dividends immediately – it might be overly optimistic to expect him to jump into action this Sunday and make a difference – but he’s a player that Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie is very familiar with and admires.
McKenzie, who served with the Packers before coming to Oakland, signed Ross to Green Bay’s practice squad last season as an undrafted free agent out of Youngstown State. According to the Associated Press, McKenzie convinced Ross to stay in Green Bay last year when he had to a chance to go to another team.
Now, McKenzie has brought him to the Raiders.
“He’s a big guy, a physical guy, has got some coverage skills,” Raiders head coach Dennis Allen said of Ross. “He’s a guy that Reggie knew about from being there with him, so he was a guy we thought could come in and compete.”
For Ross, 6-0 and 191 pounds, this is his big opportunity to play in the NFL, and he’s eager.
Wrote Ross on Twitter Wednesday after being signed by Oakland: “Thanks for the warm welcome, #RaiderNation. I’m a do my best to make y’all proud.”
He’ll certainly get his chances Sunday against the Steelers’ passing game.