MAKING THE GRADE
Here is how the Raiders (3-4) graded in their 21-18 victory Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers (2-5):
Passing offense: A 10-for-19, 88-yard performance with two interceptions by Terrelle Pryor was nothing special. One of those interceptions was forced, another should have been a completion had Brice Butler not had it bounce off his hands to a defender. Pryor occasionally displayed his ability to get out of trouble and convert, and a 17-yard slant for the Raiders' only first down in the second half was a big throw. But on balance, this was average . . . slightly less than average. Much worse if it had been a loss.
Rushing offense: Yes, Pryor's 93-yard touchdown run set the tone for the game, but aside from that, the Raiders had the look of a good rushing team in the first half. Darren McFadden had 13 carries for 56 yards and was knocking defenders backward. Even forgotten fullback Marcel Reece began to get in the mix. After 182 yards rushing in the first half . . . almost nothing. The Raiders had 13 carries for 15 yards. McFadden carried 11 times for 13 yards.
Pass defense: Ben Roethlisberger passed for 275 yards, but a lot of that came with the Steelers out of the game or close to it. Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter had interceptions. There is no area of the Oakland defense that has been dramatically improved from a year ago as the play of the secondary. They kept Pittsburgh receivers in front for the most part, and then tackled well.
Rush defense: Pittsburgh power runner La'Veon Bell carried 13 times for 24 yards with a long gain of eight yards. The Steelers ended up with 35 yards on 19 carries and didn't have a gain in double figures For the first time in years, the Raiders have become a difficult team to run against. They get several players to the ball and when tackles are broken a teammate is there to pick up the slack.
Special teams: The Raiders continue to be one of the best teams in the NFL when against returns (although they surrendered a 44-yard punt return to Antonio Brown) and below average on returns. Taiwan Jones replaced Jacoby Ford on kickoff returns with a long of 23 yards. Jacoby Ford, given the job as the exclusively punt returner, misjudged two punts, fumbled one out of bounds. Marquette King continues to struggle with touch punts. Rashad Jennings' partially blocked punt was a game-changer.
Coaching: Ultimately, everything worked out. Raiders offensive players raved about the advance preparation which resulted in the 93-yard run by Pryor on the game's first play. For the third consecutive home game, the Raiders came out taking it to the opposition and looking like the better team. Then came the fade. Allen conceded plays were called with a lead in mind, but stressed execution would have made a difference. Top to bottom, the Raiders appear to have a plan in mind and the will to execute it, whether it be good or bad. That counts for a lot.
-- JERRY McDONALD