Stillers-Raidas Preview(Game #13)
Stillers-Raiders. As a kid growing up in Pittsburgh, this was THE game in the mid-70's. Each team was built around power football and a brutal, punishing defense. Each team had its share of headhunters. The games between these two powerhouses practically shook the Earth back then. I still consider the Stillers 16-10 win over Oakland in January '76 to be an all-time classic (man, wish I had that one on videotape!)�Visions of Franco dashing down the sideline, outrunning Atkinson and Hendricks, for the key 4th quarter TD, still dance in my head. So, too, are the memories of the on-field and off-field incidents: Atkinsosn's chop to the back of Swann's neck, causing a concussion. Noll then accusing Atkinson of being "a criminal element". Atkinson then filing a slander suit. And then there's the dismal thrashing absorbed by perhaps the best Stiller team ever -- the '76 squad -- in which both Rocky and Franco were missing in action and the ground-oriented Stillers never had a chance against the eventual Super Bowl champ Raidas. That Stiller-Raider rivalry was pure football at its best --- no mamby-pampy West Coast offenses, no pathetic rules against "leading with the helmet", no rules against the bump & run. Just good old fashioned, mano-o-mano football, the way it was meant to be played. This game this week won't have anywhere near the aura or importance of those epic battles of the 70's, but it is kind of nifty that a hated enemy such as the Raidas will be the 2nd-to-last team to close out 3 Rivers Stadium.
* When the Raidas have the ball, they'll present significantly more danger than that ragtag Bungal offense did last week. In fact, Oakland has among the broadest array of weapons in the entire league. Rich Gannon mans the helm of the Raider offense, and is having a superb season. He's been effective both with his arm (19 TD passes and only 7 INTs) and his feet (404 yards rushing). He's got a superb cast of ball-catchers to throw to. TE Ricky Dudley is finally rounding into a reliable threat. Dudley combines good size and terrific quickness and athleticism. At WR, the ageless Tim Brown lines up on one side, with speedster James Jett manning the other side. This tandem is capable of beating you short, medium, or deep, and they have the kind of savvy to find open seams and the knack for making big plays. Andre Rison serves as the third receiver, and after dropping into obscurity a couple years ago, he's found a nice niche in Oakland and has contributed quite well to this Raiders team. RBs Wheatley and Kaufman have also chipped in well in catching the ball out of the backfield. On the ground, Wheatley and Kaufman have combined to rush for over 1,000 yards, and have given the Raiders a very capable, productive running threat. Wheatley averages 4.4 yds/carry, which certainly isn't shabby, and Kaufman actually averages a full yard more per carry. The Raider OL is fairly solid. Wisniewski is a presence at LG, and the right side is capably manned by RG Mo Collins and RT Lincoln Kennedy. The key matchup is obviously the Raiders' ground game versus the Stiller run defense. The Stiller run defense has been soft and cheezy the past two weeks, and the Raiders have fresh game film that they've certainly studied all week in an effort to mimic the success of Jax and Cinci. The Stiller DL has got to get some penetration and some clogging. My concern is that the smallish Stiller D-line seems to be wearing down as the season enters its final month. Look for the Raiders to regularly run off-tackle behind Kennedy, where Gildon has offered kleenex-like resistance the past two weeks. If the Stillers cannot limit Wheatley and Kaufman on the ground, Gannon will eventually hit Brown, Jett, &/or Dudley for some big play-action passes and the Raider offense will roll on to victory.
* When the Stillers have the ball, they'll face a rugged front-four but a malleable LB corps. The Raider DL is pretty stout, led by Darrell Russell, Tony Bryant (4.5 sacks) and Grady Jackson (5 sacks). The LB corps is a bit less strong. Greg Biekert is a feisty tackling machine, but OLB William Thomas seems to have faded past his prime in terms of hitting (though he does have 4 INTs), and OLB Elijah Alexander is hardly a force. The Raider secondary has a good combination of speed, physical-ness, and experience. CB Charles Woodson leads this crew, along with Eric Allen, Tory James, Anthony Dorsett, and Marquez Pope. This crew will jam and hit for 60 minutes. The key matchup will be the Gaypride Dink and Dump versus the Raider defense. Without question, the Raider DBs will totally smother starting WRs Ward and Hawkins. This is an enormous mismatch in favor of the Raiders. Woodson himself is good enough, that even if he had a cast on one foot and an arm in a sling, he could blanket either of these receivers without working up a sweat. Neither Ward nor Hawkins has the size or speed to get open against this Raider secondary. This will enable the Raiders to move their SS, Pope, up to the line of scrimmage to help stuff Bettis. Gaypride's offense has looked adequate the past two weeks, but that was with the luxury of facing softee defenses in Jax and Cinci. This Raiders team has nothing to be afraid of with the slowpoke Stiller starting receiving duo, and they'll sell out wholeheartedly to stuff the run and harass Stewart into hurried reads and off-balance, off-target throws. Gaypride will be thoroughly unprepared and befuddled in what will be an ugly, shameful offensive effort.
* Spec Teams: The Raiders have gotten adequate production from their STs. Ex-Stiller David Dunn gives them a threat on KO returns, as does Kaufman. Darrien Gordon is an ok punt returner. The Polish Doughboy, Janikowski, has settled in and has given Gruden a competent placekicker. The Stiller coverage teams have been pretty solid of late, and will need a strong game to keep the Raiders within striking distance. Josh has pooched the ball well all season, and will need to boot a few timely pooches in order to pin the Raiders deep. Hank could give the Stillers a boost in the return game, but Cowher is too infatuated with Hawkins and Jackwell, which limits Hank's opportunities.
* After all the epic Stiller-Raider battles over the years, it would be a nice touch to help close out 3RS with a thorough beating of Oakland Al and his Silver 'n Black. Unfortunately, the Raiders have too many weapons and the Stillers too few. The Stiller offense is woefully unprepared for this kind of Raider defense, and they won't be able to move the ball much at all with such a pathetic pop-gun passing attack. The Stiller defense will play hard and tough against the vaunted Raider offense, but will eventually succumb to field position and fatigue. The hated Raidas will pick up their 11th win with a 24-10 win over the Stillers.
The Still Mill