The Pittsburgh Steelers enter tonight with a 2-1 record, but without a franchise quarterback, as Ben Roethlisberger went down with a sprained MCL and a bone bruise in the third quarter of the team’s narrow victory over the Rams on Sunday.
Also missing the game is starting inside linebacker Ryan Shazier and backup nose tackle Daniel McCullers, both of whom also sat out Sunday’s game, in addition to tight end Matt Spaeth, who is a well-regarded run blocker.
But their opponents, the Baltimore Ravens, are hurting as well, down starting left tackle Eugene Monroe, tight end Crockett Gilmore, defensive tackle Chris Canty, and rookie first-round wide receiver Breshad Perriman, who has yet to play this season.
These injuries in themselves give us much to watch out for, at the top of the list being, of course, how Roethlisberger’s replacement, Michael Vick, performs, and how the offense adjusts to accommodate his skill set.
Vick has never played a game built around accuracy, but he does have the advantage of being surrounded by a wealth of talent around him at the skill positions. Reportedly, part of the adjustment process will consist of rolling him out more due to his shorter stature, but also to serve his superior mobility.
It will be paramount that he and the offense protect the football, which is no easy task for Vick based on his resume. With a limited offense and a defense that doesn’t produce turnovers, even one or two could seal the game.
Expect to see a lot of rushes with Le’Veon Bell, and perhaps DeAngelo Williams as well to accommodate an accelerated workload. Of course the Steelers will have to pass the ball—the Ravens’ run defense is better considerably than its passing defense anyway—but Vick has to be monitored.
Defensively, it is imperative that the outside linebackers take advantage of the opportunity to play against a lesser left tackle and to get pressure on Joe Flacco, who is prone to errors when facing rushers coming down on him. James Harrison induced him into an interception last year with pressure.
The Steelers have nine sacks through the first three games, which is an encouraging pace, though five came in one game. They will need to continue to generate pressure, and do so more consistently, without an offense at full strength.
Replacing Shazier again will be a combination of Sean Spence and Vince Williams, with the former figuring to see the bulk of that playing time. While they had their moments, it was clear that having them on the field was a step down from Shazier, who looked like a playmaker in the first two games of the season.
Something to watch out for is how the defense combats the Ravens’ running game, which they’ve had issues with in recent years. While the Ravens are struggling in that department, utilizing less of the outside zone that they found so successful, the Steelers have also used more one-gapping and aggressiveness to attack outside zone runs.
One curiosity to note is who logs playing time at cornerback. Should Cortez Allen play, will he resume his role as the nickel cornerback, or see playing time at all? Will Brandon Boykin be given any snaps after largely being shelved since the Steelers acquired him?