The Pittsburgh Steelers have managed to post a 3-2 record through the first five weeks of the season, including a 1-1 game over the course of the past two games, during which Mike Vick has replaced Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback. With any luck, today will be Vick’s last start for Pittsburgh, but whether or not he comes out with a win may require more than just a bit of luck.
As I broke down yesterday, Vick has had a number of issues throwing the ball in his approximately 60 pass attempts over the course of the past three games. Greater than 10 percent of the passes that he has thrown have had the chance of being picked off by defenses, and that included at least three clear opportunities last week.
While Vick had a fairly strong second half to the fourth quarter, during which he led two touchdown drives—one a one-play, 72-yard drive—there is no assurance that any of that carries over into this week, and he will have to show that he can make better decisions and be more accurate under pressure against an opportunistic defense such as Arizona’s.
To aid him, he must aid himself, starting with giving Le’Veon Bell the ball in better position to make a play after the reception. Bell has 11 receptions in the past two weeks, but just 35 yards to show for it.
Also to his aid will be the return of Martavis Bryant, whose size-speed combination makes him a welcome and instant vertical threat that can help reduce the risk of deep passes being picked off. The two seemed to have a bit of a rapport during the preseason from a limited sample size.
Of course, the offense should continue to run through Bell, who has had 43 carries in the last two weeks, posting 100-yard games in each for a total of 140 rushing yards. The third-year back has scored a rushing touchdown in each of the three games he has played this year.
Defensively, the Steelers are becoming uncomfortably familiar with replacing Ryan Shazier in the starting lineup, though on the bright side, Sean Spence has looked better as the season has gone on and he has continued to start.
Less familiar will be Robert Golden in the starting lineup, which may be one of the keys to this game if the Steelers allow Arizona to threaten them vertically. Golden is making his first start after logging around just 200 career snaps in four years, including the 68 that he played last week.
Pittsburgh will need to get pressure with its front seven pieces, but they may have to do without Jarvis Jones. Should the third-year edge rusher miss the game, Arthur Moats will be likely to log snaps on both sides, though rookie Anthony Chickillo may also see some playing time.
On special teams, the unit was above average last week, minus a string of foolish penalties that hadn’t been a problem earlier this season. Continuing the upward trajectory while cutting out the flags would help give the Steelers an edge over a high-powered offense.