OAKLAND (AP) – The Pittsburgh Steelers’ recent success has them feeling confident, but cautious, moving forward.
They’ll look for a third straight victory while trying to extend the host Oakland Raiders’ post-bye week struggles Sunday.
After allowing 27.5 points per game while going winless in September, Pittsburgh (2-4) has yielded 22 total in consecutive victories over the New York Jets and Baltimore this month. Shaun Suisham’s 42-yard field goal as time expired in last Sunday’s 19-16 win over the Ravens was the Steelers’ first home victory this season.
“We believed from the start,” linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. “Even when we were 0-4, we still believed we had the opportunity to turn this thing around.
“Right now we just have to keep marching in the right direction.”
However, the Steelers understand the focus must be on the present and improving each week.
“Even though we’re 2-4, we’ve still got to take it one game at a time,” rookie running back Le’Veon Bell said. “We can’t win four games in one week.”
The Steelers’ improved defensive play has been the difference of late.
They’ve allowed one touchdown the last two games, and their four sacks against the Jets and Ravens matched the total from the first four. Pittsburgh hasn’t allowed more than 83 yards rushing in each of the last two after yielding an average of 122.8 in September.
The Steelers came through with another strong defensive effort last Sunday while Woodley played through a knee injury and Lawrence Timmons tied a career-high with 17 tackles despite breaking a bone in his hand.
Coach Mike Tomlin is hopeful both players, and defensive end Brett Keisel (rib), will play Sunday.
“This type of play has to be our identity from here on out,” Timmons told the Steelers’ official website. “It’s how we play ball. The coaches have been preaching it. The players believe and once you believe, you are going to achieve it. We are going to apply it on the grass from here on out.”
Though Pittsburgh has scored 19 or fewer points in four of their six games, including both wins, a run game that averaged 61.0 yards through the first five recorded 141 versus Baltimore. Bell gained 93 yards on 19 carries, surpassing his total of 91 entering the game.
“We’re still hungry,” wide receiver Antonio Brown said. “There’s still a lot of football to be played. We’re still trying to get back in the running.”
Though Oakland (2-4) fell 24-7 at Kansas City on Oct. 13 and has been outscored 271-139 while losing its last 10 games the week after a bye, it has won three of four over Pittsburgh, including the last two in the Bay Area.
Ben Roethlisberger threw for 384 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions at Oakland last season, but Sebastian Janikowski’s 43-yard field goal as time expired helped the Raiders overcome a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to win 34-31.
Though they might have that recent series history on their side, coach Dennis Allen understands the challenge to continue that success will be difficult based on the way Pittsburgh is currently playing and the number of injuries that have plagued his team.
“We have a tremendous challenge with the Pittsburgh Steelers coming in,” Allen said. “They are playing well in all phases of the game.”
Allen’s biggest concern is an offensive line dealing with injuries to center Stefen Wisniewski (knee), tackle Tony Pashos (hip and groin) and Andre Gurode (quad). A makeshift line was mostly responsible for the Chiefs sacking Terrelle Pryor nine times.
Those injuries have forced rookie backups Lamar Mady and Matt McCants into action and are a big reason Oakland has allowed 27 sacks – second-most in the league.
“There’s no replacement for experience,” Allen said. “Unfortunately at times guys have to get their experience in a tough situation in a game environment. That’s the way you get better as a football team.”
Pryor, who has a team-leading 285 rushing yards, went three straight games without an interception, but looks to rebound after he threw three at Kansas City.
He hopes teammate Darren McFadden can post another strong performance against the Steelers after rushing for 113 yards, including a 64-yard TD, in last season’s victory.
Plagued by a hamstring injury, McFadden has been limited to 90 yards on 33 attempts in his last three games since gaining 129 on 19 carries during a 19-9 win over Jacksonville on Sept. 15.
Oakland’s Denarius Moore has 20 receptions for 356 yards and three touchdowns over the last four games. However, he could face a stiff challenge if consistently covered by cornerback Ike Taylor, who has played a big part in holding A.J. Green, Brandon Marshall and Torrey Smith to a combined 14 catches for 154 yards and no TDs against the Steelers this season.
Moore had five receptions for 45 yards and a touchdown versus Pittsburgh in 2012.
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