By Shawn Lealos
The Thursday Night Football game in Week 4 of the 2015 NFL season looked to be an exciting one when the schedule was created. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens consistently battle for the AFC North crown, and this looked to be a huge game when it came to gaining an advantage for the division title later in the year. However, things have soured and it now looks to be a game of survival for the two teams. The Ravens are 0-3 and just want their first victory of the season, and the Steelers just lost starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the next month.
The Baltimore Ravens Struggles
What is wrong with the Baltimore Ravens? That has to be a question that fans are asking as their normally dominant football team has lost the first three games of the NFL season. Losses to the Denver Broncos, hapless Oakland Raiders, and division leading Cincinnati Bengals has the team searching for answers. All three losses were games that Baltimore could have won. Linebacker C.J. Mosley put it best when he said that the team has “some soul searching” to do.
Joe Flacco has completed 55.1 percent of his passes for 863 yards, but he has only four touchdowns through three games with four interceptions. They are struggling to move the ball on the ground, with Justin Forsett averaging only 3.2 yards per carry and 41 yards a game. It isn’t good enough to win close games. The defense has given up an average of 28 points, or four touchdowns, a game.
The Loss of Big Ben Roethlisberger
The good news for Baltimore is that their next game comes just four days after the Pittsburgh Steelers lost their starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the season. Big Ben was off to a great start, with 912 passing yards and four touchdowns through three games, along with an impressive 75.3 percent completion rate. His top receiver, Antonio Brown, ranks second in receiving yards with 436, and the team just got Le’Veon Bell back from suspension.
Now, with only four days to prepare, the Steelers will have to turn to backup quarterback Michael Vick and hope that he can lead them to a win over Baltimore. When Vick replaced Roethlisberger on Sunday, he completed five of six passes for 38 yards, but he also fumbled the ball, one of his big problems over the years. Steelers fans have to hope that Vick can be the next Kordell Stewart without the turnover problems for the next month.
LeVeon Bell Could be the Answer
Of course, the biggest weapon now that Roethlisberger is gone is running back Le’Veon Bell. In just one game back from his two-game suspension, Bell ran the ball 19 times for 62 yards and a touchdown. DeAngelo Williams was great in his two games as starter during the suspension, and the offensive line is playing well protecting the run. Bell, who ranked second in the NFL in 2014 in rushing, will become the workhorse now in the Steelers offense and he needs to help run the clock to keep Pittsburgh in the game.
Baltimore’s Defensive Problems
The biggest problem with the Baltimore Ravens comes on the defensive side of the ball. Twice in the game with the Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens offense took the lead in the second half only for the Ravens to allow the Bengals to score on the very next drive. However, the biggest problem on defense for Baltimore is their secondary. With Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, the Steelers could have shredded that defensive backfield.
However, without Roethlisberger, the Steelers will run the ball more and that is not where the biggest problems in Baltimore lie. Giovani Bernard ran for 49 yards in Week 3. Latavius Murray ran for 65 yards in Week 2. Ronnie Hillman ran for 41 yards in Week 1. Yes, Le’Veon Bell is better than all three of those players, but if the Ravens can contain him, and force Vick to beat them by himself, Baltimore has a chance.
The Baltimore Ravens moved from Cleveland in 1996 and lost their history, starting over from scratch. As a result, the overall record between the teams saw Pittsburgh leading the series 24-18. They have met 42 times in their history, including four times in the postseason, where Pittsburgh won three of those four games. The two teams split their series in 2014, with the Ravens winning the last meeting between the two teams.