clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Taking a look at the bigger picture in the Week 4 Steelers vs. Ravens game

New, comments

Everyone is talking about Ben Roethlisberger's sprained MCL heading into the game between the Steelers and Ravens Thursday night, but fans shouldn't lose sight of the bigger picture either.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers have a pretty good backup quarterback. It's obviously a huge step down from Ben Roethlisberger, but even most franchise quarterbacks in this league are a step down from Big Ben. That's a measure of Roethlisberger's ability, not Vick's inability. If you're still in panic mode about this, compare these two QB's.

QB - A.  137/221 (63%), 1652 yards, 9 TD's, 11 INT's

QB - B.  115/205 (56%), 1618 yards, 8 TD's, 4 INT's

That's Charlie Batch's production in going 6-3 as a starter for the Steelers, and Michael Vick's production in his last 9 starts, going back to 2013 with the Eagles. Can you tell which is which?

Vick adds 370 rushing yards 41-yards per game on the ground at 7.7-yards per carry. But he also fumbled more frequently, Batch fumbled six times in 339 drop-backs as a Steeler, or one fumble for every 57 drops (no pun intended), Vick fumbled nine times in 358 drop-backs during 2013 and 2014, a rate of one fumble for every 40 drops. On the flip side, Vick is actually the QB "B" above, so he compensates for his increased fumbles by throwing dramatically fewer interceptions. That's not small sample-size either. Vick's career interception percentage is 2.8, and only 2.4 since his incarceration, which is better than Joe Flacco (2.5), and considerably better than Batch (3.2).

You can trust Vick to throw the ball; it's just holding onto the ball that you have to worry about. Fumbles and all, though, Vick is still probably better than Batch and the primary concern this week against the Ravens is really more Vick's familiarity with the system than his actual abilities. With a much better offense around him than he had even in Philadelphia, and certainly better than in New York, Vick should be okay and could even shine. Vick had a 100+ passer rating in four of his last nine starts, mostly based on efficiency with limited attempts but also including a 400- yard, two-TD performance against the Chargers in 2013. The Steelers will be okay with Magic Mike at the helm.

There's also other stuff going on besides Roethlisberger being injured. The emergence of the Steelers' defense is really good news and comes at the perfect time. The overall improvement of the unit, which is sixth best in the league in scoring defense, can be highlighted by the performance of recent draft picks Stephon Tuitt, Ryan Shazier, and Bud Dupree, who each have a bit of a Ravens tie-in as well.

Stephon Tuitt is coming into his own this season, showing the dominant play that had some Steelers fans (such as myself) talking about him as a first round pick last year.  He currently leads the team in sacks at 2.5, on pace for a 13 sack season, to go along with his 11 tackles. Meanwhile, the Ravens 2nd round DL from 2014, Timmy Jernigan, has failed to live up to the promise he showed last year and has only four tackles so far in 2015.

Ryan Shazier is the other player who is having a break out season; with 22 tackles a sack and a FF in two games he's got the lead on the man to whom he will forever be compared, C.J. Mosley, sitting on 21 tackles, two sacks, and three PD in three games. Shazier needs to get back onto the field if he hopes to keep his position, though.

Bud Dupree had his first NFL game without a sack on Sunday, a phenomenon he will look to prevent from becoming a streak by burying Joe Flacco in the green, unburned Heinz field turf Thursday night. He shouldn't put too much pressure on himself, though, as even without a sack Sunday he still would be the most productive OLB on the Ravens roster right now. Dupree's 8 tackles and two sacks put him ahead of Upshaw's eight tackles and no sacks and Dumervil's six tackles and one sack. That's got to be a tough pill to swallow for Ravens fans who predicted they got the better NFL prospect in the fifth-round draft pick Za'Darius Smith, Dupree's college teammate, who I don't believe has yet to see the field as a pro.

Finally, Antonio Brown is so good it's easy to take him for granted, but has anyone noticed that he's on pace for 150 receptions, over 2,000 yards, and 10 TD's?  That pace is bound to slacken with Vick rather than Roethlisberger under center, but can you think of anyone better to elevate Vick's game? Don't count out Brown's production dropping seriously either. Backup QB's often fixate on a favorite receiver as a security blanket, rather than risk getting creative, and Brown could actually see his targets go up as Vick lacks Ben's ability to see the whole field and spread the ball around. The Ravens gave up 227 yards to AJ Green last week, which is a lot even for Green, and over a hundred yards each to Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper in Oakland, so don't be surprised if the Steelers look to feed Antonio Brown until the Ravens show they can stop him (ok, slow him down).

Big Ben's injury has dominated the conversation this week, and that's fair, but in the bigger picture there's some really good things going on too, and the Steelers will have a very good shot at extending the Ravens' losing streak to 0-4 on Thursday.