Forgive Pittsburgh Steelers' Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley if he appears a bit haggard on Thursday night when the Black-and-Gold square off against their divisional arch-rival, the Baltimore Ravens. October comes in with a bang at Heinz Field before a nationwide TV audience and, when the clock strikes 8:25 p.m. in Pittsburgh and the opening kickoff is launched into the evening air, Coach Haley will have had approximately 100 hours in which to entirely reboot his offensive system and develop a new game plan predicated on the vastly differing and unique capabilities of one Michael Vick.
To make these circumstances even more intriguing, the weather forecast calls for swamp-like field conditions to prevail in the Burgh, as a tropical wave is expected to roll heavy showers through town during the next several days. We might even see a replay of the infamous bounce-less punt that once embedded so comically into the Heinz Field gridiron. Slippery-ball turnovers also might be anticipated by both teams, but one thing seems inescapable. After the final whistle sounds, free associations will be made between certain players' names and the gooey brown stuff covering their uniforms.
Welcome to an entirely new season of Pittsburgh Steelers football. Forget all of your previous expectations. The Steelers Nation legions might as well have been transported by time machine to some point in the future where, to everyone's amazement, we find Mike Vick still outrunning and outgunning NFL defenses. Wave farewell to No. 7 and all that Week 1-3 jazz; we won't be seeing this again for awhile.
But after pinching ourselves enough times to realize this isn't all just some crazy dream, we'll probably notice a few things to remind us that it's still 2015 after all. Most importantly, we'll soon be seeing what Vick looks like in action, following a short week when he knew he was preparing to start. In terms of any quarterback's psychological preparation, there's nothing quite like knowing you're the man. Additionally, we'll see the further development of a Pittsburgh Steelers' defense that's looking increasingly dangerous by the week. They've been a key factor in why opponents haven't been able to sustain running attacks nor take greater advantage of a Pittsburgh secondary still in search of a positive identity.
With Ryan Shazier, the defense's new and rising star, still sidelined with a shoulder injury suffered during his stellar performance against the 49ers, players including Arthur Moats, Lawrence Timmons, Sean Spence and rookie Bud Dupree were able to take up the slack in St. Louis last Sunday. This tough, speedy and mostly-young group appears poised to inflict plenty of suffering on opposing offenses during the course of the 2015 season.
As for the Steelers' defensive line, we're starting to see some promising synergy between Cameron Heyward and the precocious Stephon Tuitt. It hardly hurts their motivation to know that the target of the week will be none other than Baltimore's Joe Flacco.
Despite the ill fate of losing the franchise quarterback for what looks like a minimum of four weeks, it was probably helpful that Vick was able to play a majority of the second half in St. Louis on Sunday. Having played only sporadically for the New York Jets last season, Vick clearly wasn't in anything approaching top condition or readiness when he took the place of the injured Ben Roethlisberger against the Rams. Despite getting some negative reviews, at least Vick got a good opportunity to knock off some rust.
Given a few days to absorb the reality that he owns the Pittsburgh Steelers' quarterback job for the entire month of October if not longer, Vick has enough pro experience to know only too well that expectations for him will be far higher this week and his performance will be analyzed under a microscope on a national stage.
With the team's rebooted season commencing on the first day of October, Steelers Nation has another opportunity to relive that sense of breathless anticipation felt prior to Week 1 and experienced at the outset of every season. With the home crowd on hand to cheer them on through the rain, mud and blood of a Thursday Night Football clash with the Baltimore Ravens, you can fully anticipate, at some point in this game, a fellow fan will turn to you in bewilderment and ask, "Who are these guys?" But unlike during the team's glory years, this time you might need to consult your Steelers roster before answering the question.