AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers
I'm hearing Roethlisberger has had no major setbacks in the first 11 days and has graduated to stationary bike work. He ditched the crutches in the first week of rehab, which is a good sign. Roethlisberger roamed the sidelines freely last week against Baltimore, four days after injury.
Not all MCL cases are identical. Roethlisberger must monitor the pain and stiffness in the injury over the next few weeks, testing lateral movements and ability to plant on the knee. As ESPN's Stephania Bell says, Roethlisberger must protect the injured area to "allow the ligament to scar down." Plus, the bone bruise can persist for at least 3-4 weeks.
But Roethlisberger said on his weekly radio show on 93.7 The Fan that team doctors are pleased with the progress.
"We're just going to keep taking it week-by-week and try and get back as soon as I can," Roethlisberger told the show.
The Nov. 1 home matchup with Cincinnati seems like a prime return, though Roethlisberger has eschewed all target dates.
Goodness, that would be a fun game -- Roethlisberger's return against a team considered by many as AFC North favorites.
Roethlisberger threw for 912 yards in less than 11 quarters before the injury.
PITTSBURGH -- Of course, Le'Veon Bell wanted the ball.
But he understands why he didn't get it.
On the Pittsburgh Steelers' botched fourth-and-1 call in overtime of the 23-20 loss to the Ravens, Bell said Baltimore was in cover-zero coverage (both safeties in the box, complete sellout to the run). The Steelers called a pass play to Antonio Brown toward the sideline. Michael Vick overthrew him.
"I’ll never turn it down if they call my number," Bell said. "I can’t say I need the ball every time. I think it was a good play call. We just executed it wrong. If AB catches the ball or if the ball’s put in the right spot and AB catches it, nobody says anything ... Obviously if it’s fourth-and-1 and they try to give me the ball, I’m going to do what I can with it."
Bell had it rolling with 129 rushing yards, three of which came on a first-and-10 play from the Ravens' 42. After a Vick scramble and a 1-yard dump-off pass to Bell, the Steelers faced a game-defining decision -- attempt a 50-yard field goal with struggling kicker Josh Scobee or go for the first down.
Bell said the Steelers had an advantage on the outside and could have picked up the first down. He was asked if he was disappointed.
"I’m not disappointed. What happened, happened," Bell said. 'The play call was called in the huddle, we go out there and execute it, whether it succeeds or fails, you have to live with that and move forward."
One theory is this: If you have an elite back and need one yard, you should go to that elite back, no matter the coverage. But Bell's point is no one would question the call if the pass was completed.
I still like the chances better with Bell in that scenario. If you need two yards, that changes things. One yard, gotta win up front.
"We're confident we can run the ball on anybody," Bell said.
PITTSBURGH -- Get to know Chris Boswell, who is the Steelers' fourth kicker in the last two months. His goals are simple:
"Get touchbacks and put the ball through the pipes," said Boswell, who's spent time with the Texans and Giants the last two years.
Boswell learned soccer at an early age: Boswell's father lived in Brazil before he was born, which meant Boswell played soccer "as soon as I could walk," around age 3. This taught Boswell the art of placing the ball where he wants it, which helps him now. Boswell was a defender who played in high school but gave up the sport when he got a football scholarship to Rice.
Boswell's family spreads the faith: His grandparents were missionaries working in Brazil, which explains his father's trek there. The family is heavily involved in Christian missionary work. Boswell has been involved, but said he's never really thought about full-time mission work. "Who knows where life is going to take me," he said.
Kicking "90 percent mental": Boswell has worked this offseason with Giants kicker Josh Brown (10-for-10) and Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos (coming off a 7-for-7 game against Cincinnati). Perhaps those two will give Boswell some good energy for Pittsburgh.
Boswell talks with these friends about the mental side of kicking, getting your mind right before each attempt.
"How to go after every kick," Boswell said. "Each kick stands on its own. You have to have that down before you kick the ball."
As for the well-publicized kicking woes around the league -- 14 misses last week, the most since Week 2 of 2013 -- Boswell said kickers are "grouped together" when a few guys struggle. It doesn't mean they all will.
When addressing the media Tuesday in Pittsburgh, head coach Mike Tomlin sounded optimistic Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Michael Vick will evolve in the offense. Tomlin said Vick -- who finished 19-of-26 for 124 yards and a touchdown and was sacked four times last week against the Baltimore Ravens -- is "only going to get better" off a full week of preparation entering Monday's game at the San Diego Chargers.
Vick had 3 1/2 days to prepare for the Ravens last Thursday night, resulting in many quick, manageable throws that eliminated risk. Vick only had one passing attempt longer than 35 yards in the air.
Overall, Vick preformed admirably in spot duty, but with the game on the line he missed Antonio Brown toward the sideline on a controversial 4th-and-1. Vick said that throw will haunt him for a while. The Steelers bet on Vick instead of struggling kicker Josh Scobee, who has since been released. Vick seems ready to reward that faith, despite Thursday's backfire. Brown led all Steelers receivers with 42 yards against the Ravens, highlighting how much the Steelers will miss Ben Roethlisberger no matter how well Vick does.
Tomlin said everyone in the building is pleased with Roethlisberger's recovery from an MCL sprain, but Roethlisberger will miss this week and likely a few more.
One option for Vick this week is targeting tight end Heath Miller, who had one catch for 1 yard last week. Tomlin explained that Miller was used primarily as a blocker for Le'Veon Bell. Miller is a traditional tight end who blocks as well as he catches, so the receiving stats don't always tell the story with him. But the Steelers would be smart to use him as a safety valve in the middle of the field.
In other roster news, Tomlin said the Steelers will consider Ross Cockrell -- who had his hand in two turnovers but got beat on a touchdown in coverage last week -- as the third corner for nickel sub-package alongside William Gay and Antwon Blake. However, Cortez Allen should return this week after missing time with knee swelling. Allen and Cockrell are two corners with good size but more to prove to crack the lineup full time.
Then there's seldom-used Brandon Boykin, which is another situation we will explore later.
The Steelers have been ravaged by injuries and kicking issues but have improved drastically in one area: defensive pressure.
With 14 sacks through four games, the Steelers are on pace for 56 sacks over a 16-game season, which would have led the league in 2014 and nearly doubled Pittsburgh's total of 33 from a year ago.
The last time Pittsburgh sniffed 50 sacks was in 2010, when it finished with 48. It has dwelled in the 30s ever since.
Nine Steelers have at least one sack, including ascending defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who leads the team with 3.5. Tuitt's ability to win his matchups up front has been noticeable this year. Jarvis Jones is the only outside linebacker from the four-man rotation (including James Harrison, Arthur Moats and rookie Bud Dupree) without a sack so far.
"It's our job to help put our offense in the best position on the field," Tuitt said. "We have to play great defense from here on out."
New defensive coordinator Keith Butler has work to do to thwart opposing running games after the Ravens rushed for 191 yards in 39 carries last week. But Butler has freed up his front seven to rattle quarterbacks. The Steelers have mixed 3-4 and 4-3 formation looks while asking defensive linemen to stand up at the line of scrimmage on occasion. Butler is rolling out creative blitzes, which sometimes backfire but breed an aggressive style that rewards players.
And players are playing hard for him. Defensive end Cam Heyward's sack-fumble on Joe Flacco early in the second half Thursday was all effort, with Heyward diving to knock the ball out of Flacco's grip.
Tuitt says chemistry is now blending with talent.
"Just simplifying the defense down to us and making us play," Tuitt said of the defensive game plans. "We all have the ability to do tremendous things on a football field, but it's all about the little things when you go against somebody. We're just going into games to play and compete."
The Steelers are an incomplete picture on defense because the secondary must prove it can hold up for the long term. But the changes to the defense are setting a firm foundation in Pittsburgh.
This has to work.
No matter Chris Boswell's inexperience (zero NFL field goal attempts), or being released by the Texans and Giants, or whatever happened at his tryout that impressed the Steelers.
He has to make kicks. Nothing else matters. If the Steelers can't find security at this position once and for all, insanity is the last option.
Consider the comical last two months:
Aug. 9: Shaun Suisham tears his ACL against Minnesota in the Hall of Fame preseason game.
Aug. 11: Steelers sign veteran kicker Garrett Hartley.
Aug. 29: Hartley hurts his hamstring at Buffalo.
Aug. 31: Steelers start trade process for Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee, clearing way for Hartley to go on injured reserve.
Oct. 1: Snoop Dogg excoriates Scobee on a web video after the veteran missed two crucial kicks in a loss to Baltimore.
Oct. 3: Team signs Boswell, releases Scobee.
Any more additions to that list and Mike Tomlin will eat his headset on the sideline.
According to ESPN analyst Field Yates, this whole ordeal will cost the Steelers $6 million in kicker money this season. Those checks hurt to write.
And to think, do the Steelers truly know Boswell is the answer?
Scobee's leg betrayed him, but Boswell is less a certainty than Scobee was. They are betting on upside here. They know Boswell is about 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds with a big leg.
He can't miss two in a row. That's the new standard.
Good luck. A storied franchise with playoff hopes is counting on you.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was not holding a cell phone on the sidelines during Thursday night's 23-20 overtime loss to the Ravens, according to the team.
Spokesman Burt Lauten said Roethlisberger, who was shown during the NBC broadcast holding something and then quickly placing it in his sweatshirt pocket, was holding a play sheet. It is believed to be Roethlisberger's personal wristband with plays on it.
There was speculation on social media that Roethlisberger appeared to be holding a cell phone, which would break NFL telecommunication rules because of the unfair advantage it could create. Roethlisberger, for example, could text sideline observations to coaches in the press box.
The NFL also responded with a statement Friday: "Our on-site representatives looked into the matter and confirmed Roethlisberger was holding a black armband with a clear cover that contained the Steelers play sheet. It was not a cell phone."
Browns general manager Ray Farmer is serving a four-game suspension for breaking NFL policy on cell phone use during a game.
Roethlisberger sprained his left knee in Sunday's win at St. Louis and watched Thursday's game on the sidelines without crutches, serving as a de facto quarterbacks coach for second-string QB Michael Vick.
PITTSBURGH -- When Justin Tucker lined up for a 52-yarder in overtime of the Ravens' 23-20 win, there was no doubt from this vantage point what was going to happen. Ravens teammates had no doubt. Reporters had no doubt.
He was making the 52-yarder.
The contrast with Josh Scobee and the Steelers was so jarring, because there were the Pittsburgh Steelers, on the 33-yard line, ready to win the game with what would have been a 50-yard kick, and they just didn't feel comfortable turning to their kicker.
Something is off with the Scobee experiment in Pittsburgh, where even his makes look slightly off. Remember, this is an accomplished kicker who has made 241 kicks at an 80.1 percent success rate. His leg is turning on him. He had a manageable 41-yarder to win the game and couldn't do it. He wore that devastation early Thursday morning in the locker room.
"This is not what I envisioned whenever I got traded here," said Scobee, who’s now 6-for-10 this season, missing multiple kicks in two of his four games. "This wasn’t what I wanted to happen. I expect better of myself. I expect to contribute and not be one of those reasons why we lost the game. It’s tough. Unfortunately, I’ve been through tough things and it makes you better in the long run."
The Steelers basically have three options at this point:
- Cut their losses on the Scobee trade, eat the lost sixth-round pick and the portion of the $3.425 million the Steelers agreed to pay, and move on.
- Keep him, hope he shakes the funk.
- Ask punter Jordan Berry if he can start kicking.
It’s gotten that wild for the Steelers at kicker. They are on their third kicker since the preseason and still don’t have this figured out. The Shaun Suisham injury looms larger than anyone could have imagined.
The Steelers can hold some tryouts in the next few days regardless, but there are no guarantees they can find a reliable backstop. They can wade through the Billy Cundiff-Alex Henery pool, but they have pretty much already done that.
They are picking between two unreliable options right now. That’s why, despite Scobee's issues, if he could have gotten a chance at that 50-yarder, that could have boosted his confidence, and the team’s confidence in him.
Make that, things become all good.
But that kick was hardly a guarantee, even for a kicker whose confidence is intact.
The Steelers also felt a bit helpless, and that’s a tough place to be entering an October stretch destined for close games.
But they didn't have either Thursday night, and who knows when they will get them back.
That leaves the Steelers trying to figure out how to make the next month work without wasting good defensive performances again.
- Josh Scobee's two missed field goals on chances to seal the game -- his second game of multiple misses since joining the Steelers -- masked the harsh reality that hard numbers provide.
- Le'Veon Bell had 79 rushing yards in the second half and overtime, nearly 40 minutes total, and the Steelers' offense managed five first downs and a touchdown during that span.
- The Steelers finished with 124 passing yards against the team that nearly gave up 400 yards to Andy Dalton the previous week.
"I know I can't do it like Ben does it," quarterback Michael Vick said. "But we can make it work."
It's not that Vick looks uncomfortable as the team's quarterback, but something is missing that must be identified.
Perhaps it's letting Vick loose.
In efforts to keep Vick comfortable, the Steelers dialed up a conservative game plan filled with short screen passes and quick reads. That's understandable. Vick has been with the team for less than two months.
But the Steelers attempted one pass of more than 35 yards, with Vick targeting Antonio Brown in the end zone, a play that nearly went for a touchdown.
On several occasions, Brown bolted downfield and was in the process of getting open but would need a throw that requires trust. Vick didn't pull the trigger. Brown can't replicate the chemistry he has with Roethlisberger, but Vick knows he has to target Brown more.
"I just didn't want to force it," Vick said.
With the defense creating five sacks and three turnovers, the offense doesn't need a fireworks show every week. But it needs more than this.
The Steelers will need a strong-willed locker room to shake this game. With 2:04 left, the Steelers had a first down, the ball within field goal range and a three-point lead. The chances to win with that scenario are very high.
What happened next?
Three Bell runs that combined for 6 yards, then the Scobee miss from 41.
"We have to find ways to win games," Tomlin said. "When you lose, you're open to criticism. We're not going to try to justify anything we did. ... We're not looking for comfort."
Scobee's misses changed the play calling in overtime, when the Steelers had two chances to win the game, passing on two field goal attempts (including a 50-yarder) in favor of mistimed fourth-down plays.
The Steelers could consider moving on from Scobee, though free-agent options are limited.
To generate points creatively, the Steelers must feel comfortable about going for three.
Martavis Bryant can help the offense. He officially returns next week, and he's already back in the locker room after serving his four-game suspension.
Perhaps one more deep-threat playmaker will open things up.
"We have to score touchdowns. You can't point the finger," Bell said. "It's not all [Scobee's] fault. Obviously we could have made stops here, scored a touchdown there. It's not just the field goals."
He's right about that.
PITTSBURGH -- Ben Roethlisberger is walking around on the Heinz Field sideline four days after spraining his left medial collateral ligament, which is considered a good sign for the franchise quarterback because he's ditched the crutches.
Roethlisberger is expected to watch tonight's Pittsburgh Steelers-Baltimore Ravens game from the sideline and serve as a de facto coach. Roethlisberger said during the week he was negotiating with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who has a no-crutches-on-the-sideline policy, to be with his teammates during the game.
He got his wish.
Having enough mobility in the knee to walk a few days after the sprain is a positive sign.
“It’s Baltimore,” Steelers guard David DeCastro said. “I don’t think you can say anything more. … It’s going to be fun.”
These teams are in different places. The Ravens are soul-searching at 0-3. The Steelers are well-positioned at 2-1 but must rely on Michael Vick, a 35-year-old quarterback who was a free agent in August.
No matter. This game is always about big hits and old-fashioned disdain.
ESPN Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley and Steelers reporter Jeremy Fowler break it down:
Fowler: So why is Steve Smith Sr. retiring again? He has been awesome this year.
Hensley: Believe me, Ravens fans are asking the same question. I’m sure John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco both have had thoughts about trying to persuade him not to hang it up. Let’s be honest, Smith has been the Ravens’ offense this year. Smith has 349 receiving yards, which are 198 more than anyone else on the team. His 186 yards Sunday are the second most by a player 36 or older. If the rest of his teammates had the same fight, the Ravens would be 3-0 instead of 0-3. The Ravens need another big game out of Smith to win in Pittsburgh, because the Steelers are allowing just 3.6 yards per carry. Why did Smith announce his retirement? He wants to spend time with his family. He has earned that right.
How much different will the Steelers' offense look with Vick and without Ben Roethlisberger?
Fowler: That is the question. Steelers players say not much will change, but I’m not buying it. I mean, they can’t overhaul everything. Vick has been around long enough to handle the basics of Todd Haley’s quick passing game. But the Steelers can’t expect him to do Big Ben things, either. Actually, Roethlisberger himself hinted at the possibility of using Vick's running ability. Perhaps a few throws on the run in play-action? You could see it. Expect less no-huddle; that’s Roethlisberger’s thing. Somehow, the Steelers must make up the difference between Roethlisberger’s 75.3 completion percentage this season and Vick’s 56.1 career clip.
What’s the vibe like in the Ravens locker room while facing a potential 0-4 hole?
Hensley: The best way to describe the atmosphere is "shock." Even with a demanding start to the schedule -- five of the first seven on the road -- no one in the Baltimore locker room thought this would be the first 0-3 start in franchise history. You get the sense that every player has uttered, “Are you kidding me?” at least once this week. There haven’t been any signs of panic because the Ravens feel they are a handful of plays from being 3-0. Baltimore is the first team since the 1995 New Orleans Saints to lose each of their first three games by six points or fewer. What does that mean? Not much. The Saints finished 7-9 that season. Still, there’s hope in this locker room. Baltimore knows it got a huge break not having to face Roethlisberger on Thursday night.
Jeremy, which is the real Steelers defense: the one that allowed four TD passes to Tom Brady or the one that shut down the Rams?
Fowler: I’m surprised I’m saying this, but the defense is closer to the one that shut down the Rams -- heck, holding the Patriots to 28 in Week 1 seems sort of encouraging, considering Brady’s torrid pace. The truth is the Steelers are still working out a few issues on the back end, but they are improving at a fast clip. They faced subpar quarterbacks the past two weeks, and Flacco would be smart to test the secondary deep. Safety Will Allen entered the offseason as a backup but has shined as a starter. He has been a calming presence. The Steelers are doing two things to encourage -- stopping the run (ninth in rushing defense) and getting into the backfield (tied for fifth in sacks).
Speaking of defense, how do you interpret the Ravens' slow start? Is this a long-term issue?
Hensley: This could be a season-long problem if the Ravens don’t fix it quickly. This is my 16th season covering the team, and I can’t remember this much miscommunication on defense and I can't remember a Ravens defensive coordinator calling out players for a lack of effort. You can’t overstate the loss of Terrell Suggs. He was the last remaining connection to the Ravens’ traditionally strong defenses. Yes, Suggs wouldn’t be in the secondary trying to cover A.J. Green, but the Ravens wouldn’t have to blitz as much with Suggs in the lineup and there would be no questions about motivation with him on the sideline. The past two games -- in which they’ve allowed the fifth-most points in the NFL -- tells me that Suggs' leadership might be harder to replace than some thought.
The Ravens have struggled in the secondary the past two weeks. What do they have to do to slow down Antonio Brown?
Fowler: Let’s say this: The lack of the Roethlisberger-Brown combo Thursday enhances the Ravens’ chances. Brown’s skill set stands on its own, but he and Roethlisberger have a special rapport. Roethlisberger loves to target Brown, and Brown always seems to reward that faith. Asking Brown to recreate that with Vick on the fly won’t be easy. The good news for Vick is that Brown always gets open. Double-teams won’t be enough. The way to stop Brown is to stop Vick. Brown will do his part, but Vick has to get him the ball. The Ravens should throw blitzes Vick’s way, as he’s not the same runner as the 25-year-old version in Atlanta. Impede the passing lanes of the 6-foot Vick, try to make Brown helpless in that way. Still, count on Brown making something out of nothing at least twice. That’s what he does.
Brown has maintained for weeks that he doesn’t think about his streak of 35 straight regular-season games with at least five catches and at least 50 yards. In case you haven’t heard, the streak is insane -- the next-closest is Laveranues Coles with 19. According to ESPN advanced stats, the chances of a top NFL wide receiver going for 5 and 50 in 35 straight are 0.01 percent.
Maintaining that streak just got harder, even for Brown’s standards.
Brown can always get open. That’s not the point. Brown has a chemistry with Roethlisberger, on and off the field.
“I don’t think you can re-create that. I don’t think you can,” Brown said. “That’s been a work in progress for a lot of years. What we can do is get better, grow, try to be the best we can be.”
Roethlisberger throws to Brown about 30 percent of the time on broken plays. Every play call can morph into something else entirely, often Roethlisberger buying time while Brown finds a soft spot in the defense. The results are magnetic. That relationship is a big reason why Brown has 29 catches for 436 yards and two scores through three games, trailing only Julio Jones on the NFL leaderboard in yards and receptions.
Roethlisberger is even teasing Brown that he should marry his longtime girlfriend. These two players are pretty tight.
Things with backup QB Michael Vick could be different. Vick, for all his talents, isn't known as an accurate passer. Roethlisberger completed 67 percent of his passes last year and was hitting on a volcanic 75.3 percent through two-and-a-half games this year. Vick is a career 56 percent passer. Brown can make an assortment of tough grabs, but he needs the ball to come his way. To be sure, Vick has never had a supporting cast like this. He certainly didn't with the New York Jets last year. Perhaps a new, more accurate Vick will emerge because of the playmakers around him.
The good thing for Brown: He prepares for these moments. If he has his way, success doesn’t hinge on anyone else but himself.
Brown, 27, can make a case as the game's best receiver, and that case doesn't stand on statistics alone. Fundamentals, mental preparation, footwork and ability to handle constant double-teams separate Brown from the rest, he says.
Maybe that's why Brown isn't uneasy about his current situation.
"My job is to catch the ball no matter how they throw it," Brown said. "You’ve got to be able to catch the ball.”
It's always been that simple for Brown. Still, his streak could get complicated.
PITTSBURGH -- Ben Roethlisberger addressed the media today, and he explained some of the symptoms that are typical for an MCL sprain and bone bruise. The MCL is a stability issue, the bone bruise is a pain issue. How those two factors heal will determine whether the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback can return by Nov. 1 for the divisional matchup with the surging Bengals. Roethlisberger thought he had broken his leg, but the bone bruise was causing that pain.
"Drinking my milk, trying to get back as fast as I can," Roethlisberger said.
He'll need to move aggressively through rehab to do just that. Regaining side-to-side movements will take time. And the bone bruise complicates matters.
Those are all things to learn from ESPN injury analyst Stephania Bell, who took a few questions about what Roethlisberger might be dealing with in the coming weeks. Bell was helpful with details on the process. Here she is:
What is the biggest challenge Ben faces in his rehab?
Bell: The nuances of the injury will dictate what is the most challenging aspect of rehab. MCL injuries are not all identical. Beyond the severity of the sprain, there is also the matter of where along the ligament the injury is. In some cases, pain and stiffness are more significant and the athlete needs to be moved aggressively through rehab. In others, the concern is getting full healing. The key then is protecting the injured area to allow the ligament to scar down. As healing permits, the athlete can be progressed through normal rehab.
What is the biggest factor in determining a timetable for return?
Bell: Timetable will be dictated by relief of symptoms, return of strength and functionality. As pain improves, the athlete will have an easier time with motion and with functional progression. Roethlisberger has to be able to make all necessary movements to perform effectively and to protect himself. Side-to-side movements are typically more challenging and can be the slowest for an athlete to regain confidence.
Why is the bone bruise an important part of this?
Bell: Bone bruises aren’t insignificant. They can be symptomatic for 3-4 weeks, but often take longer to completely resolve. In order to avoid progression of the injury which could lead to arthritic changes in the joint, it’s important to eliminate swelling and restore normal range of motion and strength.
What does this mean for his ability to plant and throw? Is he going to be affected early on?
Bell: His ability to plant depends on the stability and strength in his knee (all of which goes back to making sure he does all of the above prior to returning). If he is given the time to properly recover and rehab, there shouldn’t be lingering physical effects. One of the harder aspects of returning may be feeling confident in a collapsing pocket when players are falling around your knee. This injury happened to Ben when a player landed against the outer aspect of his knee, forcing his knee sharply inward and placing stress on the MCL. He has to get past the memory of that to return to playing normally, without apprehension.
This isn’t Ben’s first injury and he knows the medical staff well. There will no doubt be ongoing dialogue between them as to how much he can/should push along the course of his rehab, and when it will be appropriate to resume football activity.
He should be more equipped to handle spot duty this time: With the Jets in 2014, Vick averaged 5 yards per passing attempt and finished with a 21.4 QB rating, the worst in the league among quarterbacks with at least 100 passing attempts. He lamented he was underprepared as a backup. He spent 11 seasons as a starter. He was used to that life. The transition was not smooth. Worsening matters was a subpar supporting cast in New York.
Upon arriving in Pittsburgh in late August, Vick said he had learned from that experience. He knows he’s the backup. He’s not supplanting Roethlisberger, whom Vick calls a “future Hall of Famer.”
"What I've heard from everybody inside this organization is there's only one goal, and that's to get a ring," Vick said then. "I understand why I'm here. My role is clear. I can focus on that."
If Vick follows his own advice, he will be mentally ready to handle this stretch of games because he’s put in the work while he wasn't playing.
Evolving with Todd Haley’s offense could take some time: It’s important to consider that Vick has barely played 50 snaps with Pittsburgh between the preseason and regular season. This passing offense is about timing and rhythm. It took Roethlisberger a few years to hit his stride in it. It requires accuracy.
Accuracy is not Vick’s thing. He’s completed more than 60 percent of his passes in one of his 12 NFL seasons, back with Philadelphia in 2010. For his career, he’s a pedestrian 56.1 percent passer, including a dip to 52.9 percent last season.
The Steelers must work around that and find ways to use Vick. They can roll him out in play-action, design passing plays that make him comfortable and rely heavily on the running game.
Vick’s contract gives him incentive to play well: As if his long wait in free agency weren't humbling enough, the Steelers gave Vick a one-year deal worth $970,000 with no signing bonus, no money guaranteed.
This is a steep decline from the reported $5 million deal the Jets gave him in 2014.
If Vick wants to play a few more years, then October is an audition where he can make a case for a continued career and increased earnings. Put up decent numbers, then sign a one- or two-year deal with the Steelers or someone else in the offseason.
My guess is that Vick is motivated to prove his value because of the two years he missed while in prison and his decreasing shelf life as a pro.
There are still glimpses of Vick’s natural abilities: On Vick’s first play from scrimmage against Buffalo in the preseason, Vick reached back and fired the ball to Martavis Bryant. Sixty-three yards later, Vick had reminded fans what he can still do on occasion.
The arm strength was never in question. And when Bryant returns from a four-game suspension, he’ll be an ideal target for Vick, who can throw it up to the big target streaking down the sideline.
Naturally, Vick’s scrambling ability has diminished somewhat. He’s not rushing for 80 yards a game. But he still has above-average speed, and the Steelers would be smart to encourage Vick in this area. Vick took two sacks against St. Louis. Haley can encourage him to find rushing lanes when he senses it’s too late to deliver the ball in a collapsing pocket. The Steelers receivers are used to a little "playground football" (Heath Miller's words) with Roethlisberger. Why not extend the fun?
This would be a heckuva story if he does well: Imagine if Vick goes from street free agent to catalyst for a surging team in less than two months. Sometimes it’s about rooting for a good story, and this would certainly be that. Carson Palmer and Ryan Fitzpatrick are having early-season rebirths, so why can't Vick?
Also, Vick could use the spotlight to assuage the concerns of Pittsburgh-area animal lovers who are not happy about his past connecting with Pittsburgh’s future. Vick said he planned to be active in his new city in passing along the lessons he’s learned from his mistakes. Doing so the day after a win would be a good look.