The Sin City Miracle took place less than four days ago, and now the Las Vegas Raiders’ momentum has run up against its largest challenge of the year. Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame legend Franco Harris, the immaculate receiver himself, passed away on Tuesday. Saturday, the Raiders enter Acrisure Stadium with historical memories of Three Rivers Stadium and the ghost of Harris looming out in the parking lot. They’ll be facing a Steelers team motivated by the loss of one of the greatest players to ever play the game.
Arriving in Pittsburgh for the 50th Anniversary of the "Immaculate Reception" Franco Harris Jersey retirement celebration at half time,unfortunately we will be without Franco,,unbelievably sad. RIP HOFer Franco Harris…Football fans everywhere will miss you. â¦@steelersâ© pic.twitter.com/zhLdFzhe7b
— Steve Mariucci (@SteveMariucci) December 22, 2022
The Steelers-Raiders rivalry is one of the oldest and most storied in all of football. During the 1970s, there simply weren’t any better teams than these two. Their individual matchups were some of the best ever, all the way down to coaches and ownership. The thing about a rivalry is that it can’t be a good one if either team stinks. As a fan, you can have a healthy disdain but still remain respectful of the good Harris brought out in the Raiders.
From gold to cold
As if the loss of a legend wasn’t bad enough, the forecast calls for extreme below-zero cold. After windchill, the “feels like temperature” is a chilly (-4Â°F). That’s a chill and level of cold not normally endured by Raiders players. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was born in Texas and raised in Bakersfield, California. It simply doesn’t get that cold where he has lived, and throughout his career, playing in sub-40Â°F weather has been his downfall.
Carr is 0-6 in games where the weather is below 37 degrees. The Raiders would lose to the Bengals in the wild card round of the playoffs in 2021. The Raiders would lose to the Bengals in the wild card round of the playoffs in 2021. Carr’s turnovers have been mounting, despite playing in near-perfect indoor conditions most of the time. Six interceptions (two pick-sixes) and a fumble in the last month are far from ideal. In contrast, the eight touchdowns and game winners he’s been throwing have accounted for three out of four wins.
Through the last four weeks, Carr has been the main character in a “Tale of Two Halves.” The Raiders’ offense has looked impressive early in games and disappeared after the half. The last throw he made to Keelan Cole, a 30-yard drop-in-the-bucket touchdown, was sensational. The first throw of the second half was a telegraphed, audible wide receiver screen pass that Patriots defensive back Kyle Dugger intercepted and returned 16 yards to the house. Carr would also fumble the ball on a sack, but it was recovered by the offense.
A strong late fourth quarter from Carr saved the game and prevented the Raiders from blowing their fifth double-digit lead of the season.
Raiders on Pickett’s line
Kenny Pickett may be out of the concussion protocol but is not guaranteed to start. Honestly, the best thing for the Raiders would be to see Pickett lined up under center. His QBR is a whopping 45.2, and his overall rating is 74.9. Pickett has played in 10 games and started nine, and to say he has had his struggles is being kind. However, it hasn’t all been bad; his 72.8% on-target throwing percentage, 17.9% bad throw percentage, and 65% completion percentage are all superior to Carr’s.
Should Pickett get the start and actually play, it would play into the Raiders’ favor. The Steelers offensive line is not very good, and Pickett has been sacked 24 times (the same as Carr), but in five fewer games. It seems the Raiders’ passing defense is just what bad quarterbacks need to get right this year.
Run Defense failing
Prior to Sunday’s contest against the Patriots, the Raiders’ run defense had been in the middle of the pack in the league. Stevenson ran over, around, and past the Raiders’ defenders to the tune of 172 yards. As a team, the Patriots gained 206 yards on the ground. Injuries have been mounting, and the Raiders have had to play with more depth up front at the point of attack. There are two things needed to win games in the cold: a run game, in which the Raiders currently have the best back in the league in Josh Jacobs, and your defense.
The Patriots’ line is a big, physical one, but that’s no excuse for the bad angles and poor tackling. In the cold, you get to see who really wants to play defense. Hitting and/or getting hit is not fun when the ground is frozen and the temperatures are sub-zero. The Steelers’ bruising running back Najee Harris will multiply all of the bad tackling habits exponentially.
*Top Photo: Official Raiders YouTube Channel