In employing both a decapitation analogy and referring to the place as an animal pen, its fair to say that Steelers' guard Willie Colon's succinct description of his team's last visit to the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in 2006 made an impression, and not a good one.
"My rookie year," Colon said. "We walked into a zoo and got our heads cut off. We’re gonna do our damnedest to try not to let that happen again."
That game, a 20-13 loss to a hapless Oakland lot by the then-defending Super Bowl champion Steelers, came courtesy of four Ben Roethlisberger interceptions and a goal line stand by the Raiders that effectively ended any chance of a repeat season for Pittsburgh.
Of course that was years ago, and the teams are vastly different as comprised now. However, two truths remain: 1. the Steelers stink on the west coast (1-5 in the Pacific time zone since 2003) and 2. games with Oakland games can get ugly.
The Raiders are consistently one of the league's most penalized teams. Oakland led the league in penalties the past two years (183 and 148 respectively, including 28 total personal fouls or roughing calls) and finished second in 2009, third in 2008 and second in 2007. They're off their normal pace a bit thus far this year, having amassed only 11 to the Steelers not-exactly choirboy-like 18.
Colon was asked if it's hard to keep cool and stay disciplined when facing an opponent with a history of instigation.
"It can go both ways, man. They never catch the guy that first throws the blow, they always catch the second guy.
"Knowing that we’re gonna be in their hometown, its gonna be loud, obviously the Steelers-Raiders rivalry is big. We’re not gonna be pushovers by no means – but we have to be smart. Not to throw darts at the refs, but with these [replacement refs, its important for us to be mentally tough or we’ll fall into that hole where we’ll hurt ourselves more than anything."
During a 2010 game at Heinz Field, Raiders defensive lineman Richard Seymour punched Ben Roethlisberger in the face which set off a mini-melee. Twenty-one penalties were called in the game totaling 218 yards. Colon, on injured reserve that season, watched from the sidelines.
"That’s one of those things that no offensive lineman likes to see. I like to think that if I was out there I would have reacted different. I know I was upset by it. But I’m not going into the game with a grudge or any type of ill will toward them. It’s not a UFC match. It’s a football game that we have to win. We don’t want to go into this bye week 1-2 -- It’s gonna be a dogfight and we know it."
Colon also talked at length about the importance of getting the Steelers running game operating at a steady pace.
"We got a lot of beef-eaters up front. We’re more of a downhill team. We’ve got to sharpen that up this week," Colon said.
"You want to run the ball really well on first and second [downs] because if its third [and long] they’re not thinking about you running the ball. If you can shorten the third down, they have to worry about run, they have to worry about pass, play action opens up, so that opens up your offense. But if we come out one dimensional where we’re starting behind the chains, where we’re forced to throw -- we play into their hands and we can’t have that."
"The key for us – not to be repetitive – is the run game. That sets everything up. If they feel like they can beat us with their front and let their cornerbacks and their safeties just hang deep to cover Mike [Wallace] and cover A.B. [Antonio Brown] that makes a long day for us. But if we bring ‘em down in the box where we can have them worry about the run, that frees up Mike and them."
Colon said that the Steelers 10-and-a-half minute touchdown drive against the Jets Sunday was a taste of what the offense is capable of, if only the execution is consistent.
"When we get in a groove, its hard to stop us. We got in a groove at just the right time. You can’t leave plays out there – the first game we left a lot of plays out there. But if each guy ... does their job, we can [close] out games early. I think we let the Jets hang around to the fourth quarter and we had to have that long drive to get it done. If we get it going [early], do the little things right, we should be fine."