The Pittsburgh Steelers stand to bury the Baltimore Ravens in a seemingly insurmountable 0-4 hole when the AFC North foes meet on “Thursday Night Football” at Heinz Field.
The 0-3 Ravens enter the matchup already off to the worst start in franchise history, after losing their first three games by a combined 14 points and a defensive secondary ranked No. 29 in the league against the pass. Another loss for quarterback Joe Flacco and Baltimore could crush their hopes of making the postseason for a second straight year as only five teams have ever recovered from an 0-3 start.
But with veteran Michael Vick replacing the injured Ben Roethlisberger under center, the Ravens are 2.5-point road favorites.
Vick takes the reigns of a high-powered offense averaging 25.3. points and 298.7 passing yards per game, with running back Le’Veon Bell and receiver Antonio Brown two of the best in the NFL. And he could keep Pittsburgh on a historic roll.
After downing St. Louis in Week 3, the 2-1 Steelers are on the verge of their best start since 2010, when they came up with three wins in the first four games and made their last Super Bowl appearance.
Unlike wounded Baltimore, the Steelers defense has exceeded expectations. Pittsburgh’s allowing 17.3 points per game and the pass rush is tied for fifth in the league with 9.0 sacks. Second-year defensive end Stephon Tuitt and rookie linebacker Bud Dupree are responsible for 2.5.
But Pittsburgh could be stretched too thin up front this week. Defensive tackle Daniel McCullers (knee) and second-year linebacker Ryan Shazier (shoulder) have both been ruled out against the Ravens, while cornerback Cortez Allen (knee) is listed as questionable and could miss his third straight game.
However, the Steelers haven’t really missed Allen. Corners Antwon Blake and Ross Cockrell have filled in well for Allen, with the former leading Pittsburgh with two passes defensed.
For all their troubles against the pass, Baltimore has managed to contain opposing rushers quite well this season even after veteran linebacker and captain Terrell Suggs was lost for the year.
The Ravens are currently seventh in the NFL with 84.0 rushing yards allowed per game, and fourth at 3.4 yards let up per attempt, with linebackers Daryl Smith, Courtney Upshaw, and CJ Mosley leading the way, and rookie Za’Darius Smith also seeing the field. But Baltimore will miss starting defensive end Chris Canty (calf) for the second straight game.
On only four days rest, Flacco will find his targets limited against Pittsburgh and could have some protection problems up front. Tight end Crockett Gillmore (calf), left tackle Eugene Monroe (concussion), and rookie wide receiver Breshad Perriman (knee) are out in Week 4.
Gillmore’s second on the team with 151 yards and two touchdowns this season, and his absence only increases pressure on receiver Steve Smith. First-round draft choice Perriman has yet to see the field since training camp, while Monroe is still dealing with the concussion he suffered in Week 1 against Denver.
Kickoff Time: 8:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS and NFL Network simulcast
Live Online: nflonline.nfl.com