By Stephen Dolan
There is a little more pressure on both sides for Thursday night’s AFC North rivalry game featuring the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. Baltimore has dropped their first three games of the season and are in danger of falling out of playoff contention before the middle of October. Meanwhile, in the steel city, Mike Tomlin & Co. are trying to overcome the loss of franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who injured his leg on Sunday and is out for the next four-to-six weeks, at least. Thursday night can really dictate how the month of October, and even November, are going to shake out in the AFC North.
Play: Joe Flacco (vs. PIT)
Flacco has rebounded after a tough Week 1 loss to the Denver Broncos. After being held to just 117 yards through the air in Week 1, Flacco has thrown for 384 and 362 yards respectively in each of his last two games, with four touchdowns and just two interceptions. He will be facing a Steelers defense that ranks 19th in the NFL against the pass, allowing 255 passing yards per game and an average quarterback rating of 108.8.
Pass: Michael Vick (vs. BAL)
Vick played admirably in relief of Roethlisberger on Sunday, completing five of his six passes for 38 yards—not bad for his first worthwhile snap since November 24 of last season as a member of the New York Jets. Baltimore hasn’t been great against the pass this season, ranking 29th in the league allowing an average of 291 passing yards per game, but Vick has some rust he has to shake off and the Ravens pass rush will be waiting to strike.
Play: Le’Veon Bell (vs. BAL)
Bell is one of the best weapons in the league and didn’t look like he lost a step last week after coming off of a two-game suspension to start the season. Bell rushed 19 times for 62 yards and a touchdown while adding seven receptions for 70 yards. His fantasy stock picked up right where he left off. Baltimore has been good against the rush, allowing just 84 yards per game, but Bell’s ability to make noise in the passing game makes him a must-play.
Pass: Justin Forsett (vs. PIT)
Forsett leads the Ravens in rushing through the first three weeks of the season, with 124 yards on 39 carries, but no touchdowns. He has been an asset in the passing game from a receptions standpoint, catching 12 passes (good for second on the team) for a measly 41 yards (good for sixth on the team) and again, no touchdowns. The Steelers boast the ninth-ranked rushing defense in the NFL – adding to an already uphill battle for Forsett.
Play: Antonio Brown (vs. BAL)
Last year’s receiving leader is second in the NFL in receiving yards this season with 436, just four yards behind Atlanta’s Julio Jones. Brown is a big-time threat as he has 29 receptions and two touchdowns to go along with all those yards. The Steelers wide receiver has five catches that have gone for 20 yards or more. He faces a Baltimore secondary that has struggled this season, meaning there could be some big yards to be had on Thursday.
Pass: Markus Wheaton (vs. BAL)
Wheaton is an all-or-nothing receiver. He has a decent 138 receiving yards on the season, but all those yards have come on just seven catches. Wheaton’s 19.7 yards per reception make him the ultimate high-risk, high-reward receiver. Vick’s presence makes it difficult to predict what kind of impact Wheaton will have in the Pittsburgh offense.
Play: Crockett Gilmore (vs. PIT)
Gilmore has emerged as one of the only other receiving threats on the Ravens, outside of Steve Smith Sr. He has 10 receptions for 151 yards and two touchdowns on the season and is the only other Raven, besides Smith, to record a receiving touchdown on the year. Pittsburgh hasn’t been great against the pass this season, and chances are good a lot of their attention will be on Smith and not Gilmore. He has the chance to capitalize on the extra attention Smith will receive.
Pass: Heath Miller (vs. BAL)
Miller has been a favorite target of Roethlisberger’s for years. He has 12 receptions for 116 yards and a touchdown on the season, but there is a new man under center for the Steelers. Miller isn’t as athletic as Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham, but he is reliable. Unfortunately, he isn’t much of a big play threat. The Ravens defense has been struggling but Miller doesn’t pose as much of a threat as some of Pittsburgh’s options on the outside.
Play: Justin Tucket (vs. PIT)
Pass: Josh Scobee (vs. BAL)
Steve Dolan is an MBA student at Villanova University and a graduate of the Haub School of Business at Saint Joseph’s University. Steve co-founded Whiz Wit Sports, a Philadelphia-centric sports blog, in March 2011 growing the site to win PHL 17’s Best Local Blogger on the Philly Hot List in 2013.