Remember when star players such as Nnamdi Asomugha roamed the defensive secondary for the Oakland Raiders?
And remember when the Raiders had qualified, competent veterans such as Stanford Routt, Fabian Washington and Chris Carr covering the other Pittsburgh Steelers’ wide receivers?
Ben Roethlisberger does.
Even if he says he doesn’t.
“I don’t remember,” Roethlisberger said with a sly grin. “It was so long ago, and I even forgot that I had a concussion the week before until you all just brought it up.
“Honestly, I think the interceptions kind of overshadowed everything.”
Well, at least Roethlisberger admitted that he remembers the interceptions when the Steelers last traveled to Oakland in 2006.
“I remember throwing like six or seven picks and it being a crazy, hostile place. That’s about it,” Roethlisberger said.
“And losing the game.”
Actually, Roethlisberger only threw four interceptions that day, but two of those, by Asomugha and Carr, were returned 24 and 100 yards respectively for touchdowns. Those plays made up for an offense that couldn’t gain more than 100 yards against the Steelers and yet allowed the Raiders to win the game 20-13.
Cornerbacks were seemingly all the Raiders had that day, but cornerbacks are something the 0-2 Raiders are in desperate need of today when the 1-1 Steelers return to Oakland-Alameda Coliseum.
The Raiders lost both starting cornerbacks to injuries since the start of this season, and the backups, Patrick Lee and Joselio Hanson, are new to the team as free agents.
Hanson was picked up Sept. 3, and his backups were picked up off the waiver wire and practice squads within the past month.
It would appear that the low-hanging fruit of such an inexperienced secondary is primed for picking today by Roethlisberger and his deep corps of receivers.
“We know the safeties,” said speedster Mike Wallace. “That’s pretty much all we know for sure.”
So, are the Steelers’ receivers excited?
“We’re always excited,” Wallace said. “We’re excited every week no matter who we play because it’s another opportunity to make plays and get better. But we like going against the best. When we go against the best, and we get up, that means we’re the best. That’s why we like to go against the best people they have.”
The Steelers won’t get opening-day starters Ronald Bartell or Shawntae Spencer today. But the Steelers didn’t complain all that much last week when the New York Jets were without All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis.
The Steelers didn’t complain, but nor did they put their four quality wide receivers out on the field more than a couple of times to take advantage of the Jets’ thin depth chart. One would think that’s the way to go today, isn’t it?
Not really, said a wide receiver who would benefit most from the use of multiple-receiver packages.
“We’re trying to build as an offense,” said No. 4 receiver Jerricho Cotchery. “We’ve got guys growing into roles.”
When asked if it was the Steelers’ intention last week to build something out of what’s been a non-existent running game, Cotchery nodded in affirmation.
“It’s just that we want to make a steady climb,” he said. “You don’t just want to get stuck on one thing right now at this point in time learning this offense.”
The Steelers did, in fact, build on their running game. After three quarters of smashing into a brick wall and gaining only 27 yards on 17 carries, the Steelers loosened up the Jets for 39 yards on 11 fourth-quarter carries.
It was just enough to salt the game away, and perhaps show enough improvement that offensive coordinator Todd Haley and coach Mike Tomlin can move on to the other offensive components.
“I just got done talking to Oakland (reporters) and they asked how we can possess the ball for so long without being able to run the ball,” said Roethlisberger. “It seems like it’s first and second down and nothing’s really happening, and then it’s, ‘Hey, go make something happen on third down you guys.’ We’ve been able to do that on third downs and make things happen, whether it’s the tight ends, running backs, receivers, or the line giving me time. But I don’t know. I know we don’t want to do it all year, I’ll tell you that much.”
Today would seem like the day to change up – just a bit.