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Graney: Big Ben, Steelers stand in way of Raiders starting 2-0

Updated September 18, 2021 - 11:54 am

PITTSBURGH

One of the more popular cars you see traveling back and forth over the bridges that help define this western Pennsylvania town is the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Its acceleration numbers are often considered slow when compared to competitors.

Sort of like Ben Roethlisberger to Lamar Jackson.

Such is a challenge facing the Raiders on a short week: Go from defending a Porsche to a family SUV.

The latter happens to be a first ballot Hall of Famer in waiting, so nobody is feeling sorry for Roethlisberger and his sputtering wheels.

He might not have the giddyup of Jackson — few do — but extending plays continues to be a major strength of the Steelers’ quarterback.

You don’t always have to be the fastest kid in school. Even now, with Roethlisberger five months shy of his 40th birthday, races of the NFL variety can be won different ways.

The Raiders and Steelers meet Sunday at Heinz Field. Each side is attempting to begin the season 2-0. It’s the home opener for Pittsburgh. That often means trouble for the visitor.

Consider: Only the Patriots and Vikings own better winning percentages in their current stadiums. The Steelers are also 16-4 in home openers since 2001.

Three years later, Roethlisberger arrived. Two Super Bowl rings and seven Pro Bowls later, he’s still going.

Bringing pressure

“He’s a legend,” Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby said. “Obviously, he isn’t as athletic as Lamar. Lamar is kind of like an anomaly. Ben is the next obstacle in our way. Hell of a player. But no matter who we’re playing, we have to bring crazy energy and get off the ball and cause turnovers. That never changes.”

The Raiders didn’t totally control Jackson when beating the Ravens 33-27 in overtime Monday. Lamar still did some Lamar things. Threw for 235 yards and ran for 86 more.

Getting to Roethlisberger is different but no less difficult. Few in any era have owned better pocket awareness or instincts when moving within it. He’s still unafraid to push the limits of any throw.

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr hears annually that Roethlisberger might be competing in his final season. He’s on No. 18.

“I watch the film,” Carr said. “I hope he’s not done. The guy is unbelievable. Our guys, they’ll be ready. I hope they’re ready because he’s one of the best to do it.”

A healthy defensive line would help. Pittsburgh starts two rookies across its offensive front. But it’s not certain how much of a push end Yannick Ngakoue (hamstring) will have, and the Raiders already lost tackle Gerald McCoy (knee) for the season.

But there is hope for the Raiders. Roethlisberger’s accuracy has dipped in recent seasons. He only completed 56 percent of his attempts in an opening week win against Buffalo. His passer rating was a pedestrian 83.9.

Get enough pressure on him Sunday, and the chance for turnovers rises.

Comeback kid

What the Raiders can’t do is try to sit on any lead. In rallying the Steelers past the Bills, Roethlisberger moved into fourth place all time in come-from-behind victories with 48.

Only dudes named (Peyton) Manning, Brees and Brady have more.

There is also this: With three more touchdown passes, Roethlisberger will become the seventh player in NFL history to throw at least 400. Just something else the Raiders want to avoid.

“Every quarterback is difficult to prepare for,” Raiders safety Johnathan Abram said. “Everyone has their own things that they’re good at. We just have to start over, clean slate, take everything we learned from last week and put it away. Prepare for Big Ben.”

For the Jeep and not the Porsche.

Each has incredible value. One is just short on the giddyup.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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