The Raiders have been playing better of late. It’s only been worth one win in three tries, but there are signs that players have been developed well under Jon Gruden and Paul Guenther.
It may not be enough to beat a talented Pittsburgh Steelers team reeling over two straight losses, but it could create tension in Sunday’s game at Oakland Coliseum. The Raiders were poised to upset the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday thanks to solid coverage and an offense producing steadily behind Derek Carr.
Can they put similar pressure on the Steelers? They’ll need help from these four guys to beat a powerful team with a productive offense:
RB Jalen Richard
Jon Gruden once called Jalen Richard the team’s MVP. That may be a stretch, but there’s no doubting he’s vital to a Raiders offense that encourages check downs to running backs.
Richard is good making something of nothing as a receiver and running back, adept and wiggling through space to create positive gains. That was clear against the Chiefs when he had 95 yards on six carries and 31 more on three catches.
The coaching staff loves him and could increase his opportunities with Doug Martin battling a knee injury. C.J. Anderson is in the fold, but there’s no guarantee that he’ll be active on Sunday. Anderson won’t pull from Richard’s snaps away, considering he’s a solid pass protector on throwing downs.
Richard hasn’t proven to be an every-down back, but he can be a Charlie Garner typo who can generate steady production for an offense lacking reliable skill players.
LB Nicholas Morrow
The Raiders have formally moved Marquel Lee to strongside linebacker, creating an opportunity for Jason Cabinda and Nicholas Morrow in the middle. The latter sees a ton of snaps in sub packages and must show well to maintain this role next year despite the expectation the Raiders will overhaul the linebacker corps in free agency and the draft.
He struggled mightily two weeks ago against Baltimore, but played must better when given the chance against Kansas City. He had seven tackles in that game, without missing any. That’s a positive step, and one that will be important in run defense and in guarded Steelers tight ends on pivotal downs.
WR Marcell Ateman
The rookie seventh-round pick has had up-and-down moments since assuming a larger role after the Amari Cooper trade. He caught the pivotal deep ball that helped beat the Arizona Cardinals three weeks ago, and had a touchdown catch against the Chiefs and flashed great ability to snatch passes out of the air with great positioning and effort.
He’ll have to be more steadily productive despite a general lack of speed, operating well on shorter routes that keep the chains moving. He must also be more efficient with targets as a third option behind Jared Cook and Jordy Nelson.
CB Rashaan Melvin
The Raiders seem set on Gareon Conley and Daryl Worley being their cornerbacks on the future. Rashaan Melvin still rotates in, as he did successfully last week against the Chiefs. He has had success against Pittsburgh receiver Antonio Brown, possibly the league’s best pass catcher. Melvin shut him down last year while with Indianapolis, and has the closing speed required to make plays on the ball.
He won’t play every down but keep an eye on Melvin especially when he lines up against Brown. Those moments could be vital to the Raiders staying competitive in this game.