ALAMEDA On recent Tuesdays, offensive coordinator Greg Knapp said, quarterback Carson Palmer has carved out some of his day off to come into the Raiders' facility and discuss the upcoming week's game plan. For Knapp, this week's session was particularly enlightening.
Before coming to the Raiders last year, Palmer spent his first eight seasons in Cincinnati, where he prepared twice a year when healthy for the Pittsburgh Steelers and their notoriously rigid defense.
So, with the Steelers visiting Oakland on Sunday, Knapp said, "He'll have some nuances that I would not have known about, as he brought already to my attention."
It's something Palmer has come by the hard way. In 12 career regular-season games against Pittsburgh, Palmer owns a 4-8 record.
Palmer's first year playing in the NFL, 2004, was also the first season of Dick LeBeau's current stint as the Steelers' defensive coordinator. Running LeBeau's 3-4, zone-blitzing scheme, the Pittsburgh defense has been a remarkably consistent unit, both statistically and in terms of personnel.
No team has allowed fewer yards from scrimmage than the Steelers since the start of the 2004 season. And the 11 players they started on defense in their season opener this year have played their entire careers in Pittsburgh, with the exception of linebacker Larry Foote, who is playing his 10th season with the Steelers but also spent one year in Detroit.
"He's seen a lot of these starters play a lot of games," Knapp said of Palmer. "That's something that's been very helpful for me to know, because he can tell me OK, this (defensive back) might play it this way, this (linebacker), we've had success doing this, the D-line has struggled against these concepts. And because Carson is an intellectual-type quarterback, he does draw from good knowledge."
Knapp isn't the only one playing the role of sponge around his quarterback.
For a rookie wide receiver like Rod Streater, getting to know the Steelers' defensive backs on film is one thing, but Palmer can also dip into his experience to dispense advice in real time at practice.
"Anytime he sees something happen on the field he'll tell me, 'Just be heads-up for this,' " Streater said.
Palmer, who has completed 57.1 percent of his career passes against Pittsburgh with 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, respectfully said that preparing for the Steelers isn't much different now from when he broke into the league. Their sustained run of success which included leading the league last year in scoring defense is a credit to good drafting and continuity, Palmer said.
Seven of the Steelers' Week 1 starters have been in LeBeau's scheme since 2007, pressuring the quarterback from various angles and trying to disguise the zone coverage behind it.
"There's some different pieces to the puzzle, but really it's the same scheme," Palmer said. "There's always a new wrinkle or two each week. But as far as preparing for a fistfight in the trenches, battles on the outside and getting rid of the ball on time and finding ways to run the ball that's the way you prepare for them every time you play against them."
Nor does Palmer appear much different, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said this week, from the quarterback Tomlin saw for years with the Bengals.
Palmer split his last four games against the Steelers, beating them twice in 2009 as the Bengals won the AFC North division and then losing both meetings in 2010.
"He looks like Carson," Tomlin said on a conference call. "He's highly accurate, he's very good in play-pass. He can turn his back to the defense and come up throwing. He has better mobility than people give him credit for."
Meanwhile, two of the most recognizable faces on the Pittsburgh defense safety Troy Polamalu and linebacker James Harrison have yet to practice this week because of injury, placing their availability for Sunday in doubt.
"The scheme is still the same," Knapp said when asked about their potential absence. "But what it does help is it gives us a little cleaner picture, because Polamalu doesn't always line up where you think he's supposed to be. He's got such great intangibles and speed that he gives you some looks that tell you one thing, but you actually get another. That doesn't happen as much when he's not in the game."