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Raiders getting noticed with winning touch

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ALAMEDA, Calif. — With a 4-3 record and coming off a 34-20 win over the resurgent New York Jets, the Oakland Raiders are beginning to get some national recognition.

They’re currently in line for a wild-card playoff berth and have been ranked as high as 10th in some AFC power polls, pretty heady stuff for an organization that had its last winning season in 2002 and has just two .500 seasons and 10 times with 11 or more losses.

Suddenly, the news is almost all good, with pundits from ESPN, the NFL Network as well as the local press chronicling a potential resurgence of an organization that had fallen on hard times.

The Raiders visit the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday, a 1970s retro matchup between two teams with designs on the playoffs while residing in a division with unbeaten foes in Denver and Cincinnati.

Given the Raiders relative youth — 39-year-old free safety Charles Woodson aside — could the moment be too big, too fast? Could the Raiders become overconfident?

Head coach Jack Del Rio seems amused by the thought.

“We’re a 4-3 team. We’ve battled each and every week,” Del Rio said. “We’re going to continue to battle each and every week. These kinds of questions are kind of silly to me. There are talented people all across the league playing and coaching. We’ve got a really talented team that we’re going into their place, with plenty of challenges in front of us.

“Those kinds of thoughts are the furthest thing from my mind.”

Quarterback Derek Carr, in just his second year, is keeping his finger on the pulse of the Raiders and believes his team is taking everything in stride.

“I definitely keep an eye on it,” Carr said. “There’s been times when guys get excited, and times when guys get too low. I tell them all the time, ‘Hey, just stay like this.’ If you start going up and down with this game, you’ll be a head case because there’s too much of that.

“Keep your routine, and if there’s something you can get better at, change your routine. Make it better. But don’t get caught up in all the stuff that happens outside of this.”

Del Rio, who grew up in the East Bay as a Raiders fan, has blacked out the struggles of the past dozen years while at the same time embracing the traditions of the glory days. So he’s fine with his team becoming a story as long as it’s for the right reasons.

“I’m really most concerned with playing well the next day out,” Del Rio said. “All those things are nice to hear. It’s certainly better than the alternative, but it’s not what makes me go. I’m most interested in preparing this team for the next opportunity to play.

“We’ve got a heck of a matchup, a playoff-like atmosphere. Two teams that want it real bad. It should be a great environment.”

SERIES HISTORY: 22nd regular-season meeting. Raiders lead series, 12-9 including four of the last five. In the last meeting, the Raiders won 21-18 in Oakland on Oct. 27, 2013 as Terrelle Pryor ran 93 yards for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage and Darren McFadden rushed for 73 yards and two touchdowns. In the last game at Heinz Field, Ben Roethlisberger passed for 275 yards and three touchdowns as the Steelers beat the then-5-4 Raiders 35-3. Defensive lineman Richard Seymour was ejected in the first half for throwing a punch at Roethlisberger.

GAME PLAN

–The Raiders have had their best moments while running successfully, and with Latavius Murray coming off a 113-yard effort, they’ll look to get him going against the Steelers to help slow their pressure defense. In two of Pittsburgh’s games, opposing backs broke 100 yards (Justin Forsett had 150 for Baltimore, Charcandrick West 110 for Kansas City). The more damage Murray can do, the better it is for Carr when the Raiders go play-action.

Defensively, the Raiders have staked their reputation to stopping the run and they’ll sell out to stop DeAngelo Williams. The pass rush will be controlled to a degree, mindful of Ben Roethlisberger’s ability to do damage when plays break down.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

–Raiders DE Khalil Mack vs. Steelers RT Marcus Gilbert.

Mack is on a roll, with four sacks in five games and doing his usual damage against the run. He had three tackles for losses plus a sack against the Jets and will take aim on breaking up the Steelers’ front wall. Gilbert, a five-year veteran, has plenty of size (330 pounds) to deal with Mack’s power, meaning the Raiders’ second-year end may need to go deeper into his pass-rushing repertoire.

–Steelers FS Mike Mitchell vs. Raiders TE Clive Walford.

No coaches remain from Mitchell’s tenure with the Raiders, but his game is well-known throughout the building. He loves to make the big hit, and can leave his post occasionally in an attempt to make it happen. With that in mind, look for the Raiders to get Walford, the rookie out of Miami, more involved in the middle of the field and they may also get some snaps down the seam from Mychal Rivera.


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