The Pittsburgh Steelers will host the winless Baltimore Ravens Thursday night at Heinz Field and they’ll be looking to notch their third consecutive win after losing their regular season opener. With starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger now sidelined for the immediate future with a left MCL sprain that he suffered last week, it will be up to veteran back-up Mike Vick to hold down the fort until he returns. Below are seven things that I believe the Steelers will need to do Thursday night in order to come away with a home win against the Ravens.
Shorten Heinz Field – If the Steelers are going to beat the Ravens Thursday night with Vick under center, I really think their defense and special team units will need to provide at least two short fields for the offense via turnovers or long returns. While Vick might be able to produce one long touchdown drive in this game, I have my doubts that he can put together several of them. When and if the offense is provided short fields, Vick and company have to cash in on them with touchdowns instead of field goals. Any defensive or special teams touchdowns scored by the Steelers in this game will obviously be a bonus.
Vick ball security – Vick has a history of making bad decisions with the football and that includes him putting it on the ground when sacked. He simply can’t force throws or fumble like he did last week in relief of the injured Roethlisberger. Any turnovers in this game Thursday night could ultimately wind up deciding the outcome. Throwing the ball away in order to live another down will certainly be acceptable Thursday night.
Joe must go down – Through the first three games of the season, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has only been sacked twice. That number, however, isn’t really reflective of the Ravens offensive line play as that unit has already surrendered nine quarterback hits and 37 hurries so far this season, according to Pro Football Focus. The Steelers defense probably needs to register at least two sacks Thursday night if they’re going to win. We all saw how the Denver Broncos harassed Flacco in the Week 1 game and if needed, defensive coordinator Keith Butler can’t be afraid to send the blitz several times Thursday night in hopes that it results in Flacco being sacked or making an ill-advised throw.
Don’t let Senior go off – Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr., as you would expect, currently leads his team in receptions with 25 of them. He is perhaps the scrappiest player in the league and that was evidenced last week during his long touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals. Smith will get his catches in the game, but the Steelers defense must get him on the ground quickly after each and every one of them. Holding Smith under 100 yards Thursday night in addition to not letting him score will be a huge accomplishment. Flacco has four touchdown passes so far this season and two of them have gone to Smith. The other two went to tight end Crockett Gillmore, who will be sitting out Thursday night’s game with a calf injury. Those two players have accounted for 58% of the Ravens total passing yards so far this season.
Use the Bell cow’s receiving abilities – Even though the Ravens main goal Thursday night will likely be to shutdown Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell on the ground at all cost, the former second-round draft pick can still have success as a receiver. We saw the Steelers line Bell up outside multiple times against the St. Louis Rams last week and he managed to register 70 yards receiving as a result. Vick also has to know that he can check down to Bell out of the backfield multiple times during the game if his first or second read is not available to him in the passing game. Bell likely needs to register at least 125 yards from the scrimmage in this game in order for the Steelers to win it. If most of his yards have to come through the air, that’s just fine.
Be Berry, Berry good – The Steelers seem to have found themselves a weapon in rookie punter Jordan Berry as the undrafted free agent has averaged 47.2 yards per punt so far this season. He will be matching legs Thursday night with Ravens punter Sam Koch and that’s no small task as we have seen in past meetings between these two teams. Pinning the Ravens deep inside their own 20-yard line a few times in this game will be a must and Berry certainly has the leg and skills needed to do just that.
Avoid the other Terrible Towels – Last week against the Rams, the Steelers were only penalized four times for 63 yards. However, three of those penalties came on offense and all three killed drives. The Steelers offense will already be handicapped enough as it is with Vick under center, so the last thing he needs to have to do Thursday night is overcome longer down and distances because of holding or illegal hands to the face calls.