This week’s Thursday night matchup is another installment of one of the league’s better rivalries. The Ravens travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers in what is an interesting spot for both teams. Entering the year as the favorite in the AFC North, the Ravens have gotten off to an 0-3 start. This could be due to Terrell Suggs tearing his Achilles in week one which has severely limited the pass rush and also hurt the secondary’s effectiveness as a result.
Despite not much to work with, Joe Flacco has already racked up some huge passing days the past few weeks. He has the chance to do it again going against a Steelers secondary which has proven to be fairly beatable. In the past two games where Flacco has had his impressive numbers he has thrown it 45 and 49 times respectively. This is not the “Ravens football” that we’ve become accustomed to over the years. Usually known for more of a grind it out style, the Ravens have averaged just 3.3 yards per carry through three games.
When they do run the ball, Justin Forsett still figures to see the bulk of the carries. A revelation last year, Forsett like the rushing attack as a whole hasn’t gotten much going. The Steelers defense has played well against the run to this point, so this might not be the weeks things get back on track. Forsett is also second on the team in receptions, but hasn’t really had much of a chance in space averaging less than four yards a catch. As a whole, he figures to see 15 to 20 touches tonight while Lorenzo Taliaferro and Javorius Allen each figure to see a few.
The Ravens passing attack these days begins and ends with Steve Smith. Despite saying he will retire at the end of this year, the 36 year old is performing at a very high level with over 150 yards receiving in each of his last two games. With few options around him, Smith figures to see 12 to 15 passes headed his way against a secondary which has shown vulnerability. Whether it is screens to get him in a rhythm or shots downfield, the Ravens will be targeting him early and often. Kamar Aiken and Marlon Brown also figure to see some targets, but neither figure to be worth using for fantasy purposes.
One player to watch for the Ravens tonight is rookie tight end Maxx Williams. With Crockett Gilmore already ruled out, Williams will be starting and should see a fair amount of passes in his direction. At 6’4″ 250, Williams has prototypical size and is athletic where he could hurt opponents down the seams. Don’t be surprised if he becomes more utilized as the year goes on.
With the huge blow of Ben Roethlisberger’s injury the Steelers were going to be starting Michael Vick regardless, but they can’t be thrilled his first start is on a short week. While he could come out with a big performance as the matchup is there, Vick hasn’t shown enough in recent years to count on that happening in an offense he’s still getting familiar with. To limit Vick’s responsibilities, the Steelers will likely resort to leaning heavily on Le’Veon Bell which isn’t a bad thing.
Bell returned from his two game suspension last week and went right back to receiving his full work load. A game with 20 to 25 touches is probably his floor in this one as Vick could look his way in the passing game often. Despite playing very well in Bell’s absence, DeAngelo Williams barely saw the field upon his return last week. Unless something drastic happens, that trend figures to continue. For now, Williams is only worth having as a handcuff to Bell in fantasy formats.
Even with the quarterback change, Antonio Brown is at the point where he is matchup proof. And if the last two weeks are an indication, this is a favorable one for him. Vick will look for Brown early and often so he is still going to get his numbers wise. The other Steelers pass catchers will be the question. Markus Wheaton hasn’t had the impact many were hoping for in Martavis Bryant’s absence and Darrius Heyward-Bey has still shown the inconsistency which has plagued him throughout his career. Neither is worth using in fantasy leagues tonight. The same could also probably be said for Heath Miller. While he could be used as a safety valve for Vick, the Ravens have been very effective in covering tight ends to this point. If you do have to start him for fantasy purposes, keep your expectations in check.
While most of the names you’d remember from this rivalry are gone, this should still be a relatively close game. With Roethlisberger healthy, I would give the Steelers an edge here. But making his first start on a short week after being signed late in preseason, I haven’t seen enough of Vick recently to be confident picking them. My prediction is Ravens 23 Steelers (+2.5) 17.