Another chapter in the NFL’s most dangerous rivalry will be written on Thursday Night Football between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens.
The 0-3 Baltimore Ravens walk into Pittsburgh desperate for a win. The Pittsburgh Steelers host the Ravens looking to keep on pace with the Cincinnati Bengals and improve to 3-1.
It sounds like a situation in favor of the Steelers being at home. But there’s one obvious, 6’5, 245 pound issue: Big Ben will not be under center for the Steelers.
Michael Vick has gone 3-12 in his last 15 starts, although he has not been the problem, throwing 16 TDs and 8 INTs in those games. #BALvsPIT
— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) September 30, 2015
Out 4-6 weeks with an MCL injury, Ben Roethlisberger will (maybe) watch from the sidelines as Mike Vick leads the Steelers against Baltimore.
The 35-year-old Vick simply is not your little brother’s Mike Vick you knew and were blown away by. Despite having 16 touchdowns and 8 interceptions in his last 15 starts, Vick is also 3-12 in his last 15 starts as well. Albeit, some may say that record is of no fault of Vick’s own, he’s also never played in a such a ‘do or die’ rivalry as Steelers-Ravens.
One thing is true about the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens rivalry: Pain is ensued in each meeting. People get hurt. It’s as old-school as it gets in the NFL. The keys to victory for the Pittsburgh Steelers have dramatically shifted without Ben Roethlisberger playing.
The Vick Effect
The effect of Mike Vick on the offense will be making or break to the Steelers success. Despite Vick’s ability to tap into his once, Madden cover – abilities of his youth, he’s simply not the same Vick of old.
The Steelers will have to dial back a lot of their game plan to accommodate Vick’s skill-set. Mike Vick is not the most durable of quarterbacks. And, quite frankly, he’s not the best at holding onto the ball in the pocket, especially vs. the Baltimore pass rush.
Therefore, maximizing his talents of his running abilities in regards to scrambles and roll out passes, will be expected.
The ongoing streak of catches for Antonio Brown likely will end in the next couple of weeks, however, it is a must to implement Brown in the Steelers offensive attack.
Will Antonio Brown continue his 35 games streak 5 catches or more for 50 or more yds? Especially with-out Big Ben services!
— Jerry Rice (@JerryRice) September 30, 2015
The biggest question should not be, “Will the streak of 5 catches or more for 50 yards or more continue?” It should be, How will Brown step up and assist the Steelers without their franchise quarterback?”
Jet sweeps, screens, slants, and punt returns all can be avenues for offensive coordinator Todd Haley and Antonio Brown to milk the best out of Mike Vick and control the game.
Antonio Brown is bar none one of the hardest wide receivers to cover in the NFL. But, Haley and Mike Tomlin will have to create ways for Vick to get the ball to Brown, and that will largely command a great deal of effort from not only Antonio Brown, but the coaching staff as well.
Believe it or not, the next few weeks could be BIG for Heath Miller. If Miller can be an over the middle target for an on-the-run Mike Vick, he can create havoc in moving the ball.
With the coming out party of Darrius Heyward-Bey and the league-renown reputation of Antonio Brown, Heath’s 12 receptions for 112 yards has largely made him under the radar.
Heath Miller has 4 catches in 6 targets the last two games. This is a prime opportunity for Miller to “get his,” with the assistance of Mike Vick. Short passes and maneuvering his way in the open field on linebackers can open the field for the threats on the outside.
Although, it may come off as conservative, if Miller can expose defensive coverage over the middle, he may really establish a rhythm for the offense to open up. Additionally, Heath Miller may be able to establish his own momentum as a bigger threat in the offense once Ben Roethlisberger returns.
The Steelers defense must keep up the good work over the last two weeks. Having given up only 25 pts in 8 quarters, that’s an average of a field goal per quarter.
TE Matt Spaeth, LB Ryan Shazier, DL Daniel McCullers ruled out tomorrow for the Steelers.
— Andrew Siciliano (@AndrewSiciliano) September 30, 2015
It’s in all likelihood that Cortez Allen and Ryan Shazier may either see limited action, or not play at all vs. the Ravens. With James Harrison nursing a bad thumb, the Steelers will need guys in the rotation to step up their game and keep the defense going.
Cameron Heyward, Bud Dupree, and Stephon Tuitt have been a large reason the Steelers are only giving up 87.3 yards in rushing per game.
The Steelers need more from the linebacker core, however. With Antwan Blake and Will Allen leading the defense in tackles (shared with Ryan Shazier), you must have more from front seven because the secondary is having to do majority of the physical leg work and tackling pursuits.
This means, let the blitz begin. With there being hesitation and skepticism in how the offensive game plan will work out, the defense may not be able to afford to give the Ravens too many chances to score.
Like last week vs. the St. Louis Rams, the defense will better serve the offensive state of the team by making plays, possibly taking more risks than usual. The Ravens are trying to prevent their first 0-4 start in their teams’ history as well as quarterback Joe Flacco and head coach John Harbaugh.
So, it’s an obvious idea that the Ravens will take their fair share of chances to avoid making history, and being a victim of said history as well (only one team has made the playoffs after starting 0-4, the 1992 San Diego Chargers). Thus, the defense must be prepared to take their shots at the Ravens often.
With the Cincinnati Bengals sitting at the top of the division at 3-0, there is very little margin of error for any team in the AFC North. Things can slip away at any moment for the Ravens if they fall to 0-4. And, things can become an uphill battle for the Steelers without a healthy franchise quarterback if they slip to 2-2.
With Roethlisberger potentially out until week 8, and road games in San Diego, Kansas City, sprinkled with the surging Arizona Cardinals in between, the Steelers have their work cut out for them.
The Steelers have to be focused more on creating ways to win over than getting by until Big Ben returns. The schedule is simply just too tough to just tread along lightly. Mike Vick has to make plays and limit turnovers, the receiving core has to adjust to Vick’s skill-set and vice versa, and the defense will have to top their performances of the last two weeks.
If the Steelers can rally around Mike Vick and create solid game plans that will expose opponents and limit retaliation from opposing offenses, a great showing at home vs. the Ravens can show that the Steelers may be not only battle tested, but super bowl ready.
Prediction: Steelers win a very ugly game with the Ravens, but the defense carries Vick through a tough outing as he tries to get the rust off.
Score: Steelers 15, Ravens 10