OAKLAND, Calif. – The Oakland Coliseum has been a bit of a house of horrors for Ben Roethlisberger in his career.
While Big Ben has had success almost everywhere he has played, he’s still looking for his first career win in Oakland after losing his three previous trips to Raiders teams that combined for just 10 wins in those three seasons.
Roethlisberger gets his final chance at a win in Oakland on Sunday when the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4-1) look to snap a two-game losing streak when they visit the struggling Raiders (2-10).
“Well that’s what makes it fun, right?” Roethlisberger said. “You asked me about the venues, the fans, and all those things. It’s not an easy place to play. What an awesome challenge for us.”
The Raiders are the only AFC opponent Roethlisberger hasn’t beaten on the road since entering the league in 2004.
Roethlisberger’s first trip to Oakland came in 2006 as defending Super Bowl champion and he threw four interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns in a 20-13 loss to a Raiders team that finished that season with two wins.
Roethlisberger came back again in 2012 and ’13 against Oakland teams that finished 4-12. He played better in those games but still ended up on the short end, losing 34-31 in 2012 on a last-second field goal by Sebastian Janikowski, and 21-18 the following year thanks in part to a 93-yard run on the opening play by Terrelle Pryor.
Now he gets to face another down Oakland squad that at least showed some signs of life last week in a 40-33 home loss to AFC-leading Kansas City that got Roethlisberger’s attention.
“You see what they did last week against of one of the best teams in football and fought them all the way to the end, so we can’t worry about records,” he said. “I’ve never won there, so that becomes a challenge as well.”
Here are some other things to watch:
Pittsburgh picked wide receiver James Washington in the second round of the draft with the hopes Washington would take over as the team’s primary deep threat for Martavis Bryant – who the Steelers dealt to Oakland.
It hasn’t quite worked out the way Washington planned. He has eight receptions for 77 yards through 12 games and was a healthy scratch last week against the Chargers. An injury to Justin Hunter, however, opened the door back up for Washington.
“Sometimes you get knocked down,” Tomlin said. “You’ve got to get in the lab and work.”
Steelers rookie safety Terrell Edmunds is growing up quickly on the job. He got the first sack of his career last week when he chased down Philip Rivers, and with veteran Morgan Burnett struggling to stay healthy, Edmunds has shouldered a significant workload.
He’s missed just three plays combined over the last two weeks, and his speed and sure tackling are reason’s Pittsburgh’s run defense is markedly improved over last season.
Run by committee
With James Conner, whose 12 rushing touchdowns are second in the league, out with a sprained left ankle, the Steelers will turn to veteran Stevan Ridley and rookie Jaylen Samuels to share the load out of the backfield.
The two have combined for 30 carries for 87 yards while spelling Conner, though Samuels does have two touchdown receptions.
“I have been awaiting a shot, awaiting this opportunity, and we need to go out there and handle business, however it is,” Ridley said. “I don’t care how it gets done.”
Protect the ball
The good news last week for the Raiders’ running game is the team gained 171 yards on the ground, the most since Week 2 in 2017. The bad news is halfbacks Doug Martin, Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington all lost fumbles, playing a big role in the team’s loss to Kansas City.
Cooking it up
Tight end Jared Cook has been one of the few bright spots for the Raiders. Cook has already matched his career high with 54 catches and six touchdowns this season, and his 709 yards receiving are 50 off his personal best set in 2011 in Tennessee. Cook is fourth in the league among all tight ends in yards receiving, and only Travis Kelce and Eric Ebron have more TD catches.
“We’re just trying our best to feature him every way we know how,” coach Jon Gruden said. “He’s also doing a lot in pass protection and the running game. He’s got to be a Pro Bowl tight end this year, I think.”