So last week I wrote a column regarding the Ravens needing to beat the Cincinnati Bengals in order to salvage a 2015 season already on life support. If you take that statement and replace the Bengals with the Steelers, this article will seem pretty similar.
Three teams have started a season 0-3 and made the playoffs since 1990 when the NFL went to their 12-team playoffs format, the most recent being the Bills in 1998. Thursday night, Baltimore will play the Pittsburgh Steelers with the hopes of turning this season around before it’s too late. Coach John Harbaugh addressed the Ravens’ struggles this season with this quote: “Whats the saying? When you’re going through hell, keep going.” After drudging through the first three weeks in 2015, the Ravens are truly in a must-win situation. Falling to 0-4 all but ends their playoff hopes after only a quarter of the season and will drastically change how the Ravens approach the rest of the season. Luckily for Baltimore, there may be no better time to play their most bitter rivals.
Pittsburgh will be led into battle by, in my opinion the most exciting football player to ever play in one Michael Vick. Ben Roethlisberger was hit low last week inadvertently by a St Louis defender, and after an MRI will miss multiple weeks. Fortunately for the Steelers, Big Ben won’t be out for the season, but approximately a month will be left up to Mike Vick. Only three years removed from being a starter in Philadelphia, though that seems much longer ago. I am intrigued how the Steelers will have Vick operate, either have him be the typical conservative “game manager” and hand the ball off to Le’Veon Bell or let him run the offense full throttle with the bevy of weapons at his disposal. The Ravens have had trouble with Steeler backup quarterbacks in primetime before, as Byron Leftwich once led the Steelers to a near upset over the Ravens in 2012.
For the Ravens, simply put, it’s put up or shut up time. The offense has lacked playmaking other than the ageless Steve Smith and the occasional pass to the Tight End. Defensively, the once proud unit has been eviscerated by the Raiders and Bengals the past two weeks. The pass rush, while understandably weakened, needs to improve if they want to aid what seems to be lackluster secondary thus far. After this Thursday, they play the: Browns, 49ers, Cardinals, Chargers and Jaguars. If they can win Thursday and win four of the five in this sequence, they’d be 5-4 at the halfway point of the season. Giving them at least a fighting chance in the AFC.
In order to beat Pittsburgh, the Ravens are going to have to shut down Bell early, then ideally exploit Pittsburgh’s suspect, to this point, defense and get an early lead. This will force Pittsburgh to become more one-dimensional and let a hopefully rusty Vick make some mistakes. If Baltimore can contain Vick while collapsing the pocket, they have a chance to get their hands on the slippery former 1st overall pick.
Ultimately, this game will be the catalyst for the Ravens season. Not since ’07 have they not reached the half-way point of the season with Super Bowl aspirations, but an 0-4 start would almost guarantee that. As much of a bummer it is that this game will be played on a short week, Baltimore is nearing uncharted water and will likely be playing with an insane amount of emotion tomorrow, more so than normal Ravens-Steelers games. A short week of preparation may benefit Baltimore, as they can go out and play the villain as they have so well in the past. If they can come out of Pittsburgh with a win, it could lead to momentum and maybe more importantly, some hope for 2015.
My prediction: Ravens 28 – Steelers 24