The winless Ravens are fighting for their season while the Steelers are hoping to keep their high-flying offense intact with Mike Vick taking over for the injured Ben Roethlisberger. Playing at home gives Pittsburgh (2-1) a genuine advantage during a short week, but Baltimore has never been 0-4 in franchise history. Will the Ravens finally taste victory?
Here are a few things we'll be watching for:
- With Ben Roethlisberger out for a "number of weeks" with the knee injury he suffered against the Rams, no player will spend more time under the microscope on Thursday night than Mike Vick. The 35-year-old passer is just 4-12 over his past 16 starts, but we expect better results now that Vick is part a powerhouse Pittsburgh offense. He's set up to succeed with Le'Veon Bell in the backfield, Antonio Brown catching passes and a sturdy line up front. Unlike last year's dead-on-arrival Jets squad, Vick now finds himself in a talent-rich attack reminiscent of the Philly teams he led with DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin. With Vick operating as a lefty, we'll be watching to see how right tackle Marcus Gilbert protects his quarterback's blind side.
- So will Steelers coordinator Todd Haley change up the playbook to suit Vick's mobility? We expect a taste of that after Bell told NFL Media's Ike Taylor, a former teammate, that "obviously it's gonna be a little different offense, but we still have playmakers everywhere," saying: "I'm really confident that Vick can come in and handle the things that we're putting on his plate."
- Since 2004, the Ravens are 5-1 against the Steelers when Big Ben hasn't started, but this year's Baltimore defense is a mess. The Ravens have given up 440-plus yards in back-to-back losses, allowing career games from Derek Carr and Andy Dalton. Cornerback Jimmy Smith has been regularly burnt inside a secondary that made Oakland's Michael Crabtree look like a superstar two weeks ago. Bottom line: This unit hasn't been the same since losing pass rusher Terrell Suggs, but one player to watch closely: Nose tackle Brandon Williams, who looked like Baltimore's best defender against Cincy with eight tackles, including two for a loss.
- On offense, Joe Flacco has thrown for a flood of yardage, but that has more to do with Baltimore playing in a pair of shootouts over the past two weeks. Last year's balanced attack and productive ground game feel like a distant memory, with the Ravens running for just 72.7 yards per outing, fifth worst in the NFL. Instead, Baltimore's offense has centered around their only two stars to date: Reliable veteran pass-catcher Steve Smith and second-year tight end Crockett Gillmore. Coming off two straight 150-plus yard outings, the 36-year-old Smith needs to cancel his plans for retirement ASAP. Gillmore was ruled out with a calf injury, a serious blow to this air attack.
- It's a shame that speedy Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier won't play because of a shoulder injury, but he's not the only promising second-year defender in Pittsburgh. Defensive end Stephon Tuitt piled up a pair of sacks against the 49ers and another takedown against the Rams. He'll be asked to push the pocket along with rotational pass rushers James Harrison, Arthur Moats, Jarvis Jones and rookie Bud Dupree. They'll be tested against a Ravens line that has allowed just two sacks all year.
- Can we chat about Antonio Brown? While the world appropriately gushes over Julio Jones, let's not ignore Brown's insane production over the past two seasons. The Steelers wideout boasts an NFL-record 34 straight games with five-plus catches and 50-plus yards. Per ESPN advanced stats, the chances of a receiver going 5-for-50 in 35 straight tilts sits at 0.01 percent. Brown's four straight 100-yard tilts date back to last season, with no secondary showing the ability to slow him down. ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler noted that Roethlisberger throws to Brown on roughly 30 percent of Pittsburgh's broken plays. Vick would be wise to follow suit.
- One trend we applaud: The Steelers have attempted four two-point conversions this season, doubling the next closest team. Back-to-back successful tries against the 49ers buried San Francisco in Week 2, leaving us to ask: Why aren't more clubs doing the same? Let's hope Pittsburgh stays aggressive with Vick under center.