This week, I got the chance to talk to the folks over at Behind the Steel Curtain, a pretty awesome blog dedicated to a not-so-awesome team. In the leadup to this week's rivalry game, I spoke to Editor Jeff Hartman, who gave me a lot of new knowledge about his team.
On to the questions.
1. There's no doubt in mind that Michael Vick is the biggest variable in this game. Based on last week's game and his preseason performance, how can we expect him to play?
Basing his potential performance with the starting offense when he has only played a quarter and some change with them isn't fair, in my opinion. Vick wouldn't have received hardly any practice snaps with the starters, and looked overwhelmed when he took over for Ben Roethlisberger against the Rams on Sunday.
With Vick and Todd Haley having the chance to sit down and eliminate plays he isn't comfortable with, as well as adding plays to the game plan which suit Vick's dynamic skill set, it is safe to say the product you should see Thursday night will improve. What you can expect is a safe game called by Haley which allows Vick to utilize the play makers he has on the roster like Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell and Heath Miller, while still being a threat to run. Don't forget Vick is one of the best deep ball throwers in the NFL, even at his age. The Steelers will test the Ravens deep on more than one occasion.
2. The Steelers secondary was ridiculed by many this offseason, and even their own head coach had some doubts about the unit. How have these unheralded guys held up so far?
A good pass rush masks a poor secondary, and that is the philosophy under new defensive coordinator Keith Butler. The Steelers have recorded 9 sacks in 2015, which puts them tied for 4th best in the NFL. The Steelers have been getting to the quarterback, which has limited the opposition's ability to make plays on the Steelers' suspect secondary. The unit didn't get any better, but has solidified themselves as a middle of the road unit. They give up a lot of yards, but have shown they can buckle down when necessary.
The Steelers defense is improving every game, and fans hope that trend continues Thursday night.
3. How will Antonio Brown perform without Big Ben under center, and has that ever happened before? Will the streak end?
4. The Steelers have a bold strategy of going for two points a lot. Are you a fan of the scheme, and has it paid off?
I am a huge fan of the scheme, if you can make it work. Out of 4 tries this 2015 season, the Steelers have only failed on one attempt. Mike Tomlin and coaches say their strategy won't change with Vick under center, but I'm not sure if that is truth or them just putting up a smoke screen. If you can convert on 2-point conversions you are putting pressure on the opposition to have to convert sooner or later, or else they are always playing the catch-up game.
5. Score prediction, how you think the game will go, etc.
I see this being a lower scoring game between two even opponents, but there is something about this Steelers team which has me surprised. They are a very cohesive unit which doesn't back down from adversity. They have responded to playing without Le'Veon Bell, Maurkice Pouncey and even Martavis Bryant (who will return to the team next week). The absence of Roethlisberger is a big blow to the team, but won't stop the Steelers from winning. This game will boil down to the Steelers' offensive line giving Vick time to throw, as well as opening up running lanes for Bell and DeAngelo Williams. I think the Steelers win 22-20 on a last second Josh Scobee field goal.