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Week 4 preview: Ravens at Steelers

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Baltimore Ravens (0-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1)

Thursday, 8:25 p.m. ET, at Heinz Field, Pittsburgh – TV: CBS

*TV announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson

*Keys to the game: The biggest benefit to the Ravens in not having to face injured Ben Roethlisberger is Baltimore’s offense avoiding getting caught up in a shootout with the Steelers’ quarterback. Baltimore lacks a vertical threat in the passing game, which is contributing to RB Justin Forsett (3.2 yards per carry) often finding nowhere to run. The ground game has also been hindered by the Ravens falling behind early and being forced into comeback mode. Pittsburgh’s overhauled defense has shown signs of early growth and can play downhill knowing Ravens QB Joe Flacco is unlikely to torch them deep.

Michael Vick said he is comfortable with the Steelers’ offense, but the fact remains the 15th-year veteran is left-handed and five inches shorter than Roethlisberger. Vick’s launch point is significantly different and the reality is Antonio Brown and the Steelers’ other wideouts are going to need a bit of time to make the adjustment. RB Le’Veon Bell is the early factor on offense as the Steelers ask Vick to avoid game-changing turnovers, but Baltimore’s biggest weakness has been in downfield coverage (291.0 passing yards allowed per game). Vick will need to take a few vertical shots to keep the defense honest.

*Matchup to watch – Ravens CB Jimmy Smith vs. Brown: The Ravens signed Smith to a four-year, $40 million contract before the start of the season with the expectation that he was poised to become one of the league’s premier lockdown corners. It hasn’t happened. Raiders rookie WR Amari Cooper torched him for a 68-yard reception two weeks ago and Bengals WR A.J. Green beat Baltimore for 10 catches for 227 yards and two touchdowns in Week 3. Brown leads the NFL with 1,698 receiving yards, but also is making the adjustment to Vick.

*Player spotlight – Ravens WR Kamar Aiken: With rookie Breshad Perriman yet to play due to a knee injury, Aiken has been starting opposite Steve Smith. His 63 snaps last week were the most among Ravens wide receivers, but he was targeted just once and finished with zero receptions. Marlon Moore (56 snaps last week) could be an option to start Thursday.

*Fast facts: The Ravens are 0-3 for the first time in franchise history. Only three teams — the Buffalo Bills (1998), San Diego Chargers (1992) and Detroit Lions (1995) — have made the playoffs in the past 25 years after starting 0-3. … Vick started three games and appeared in 10 for the Jets last season. He had a 117.2 passer rating when the Jets were leading compared to 60.3 when they were behind in games.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

The Ravens have lost their three games by a combined 14 points, with each loss marked by late mistakes. They’re in full desperation mode and playing against a backup quarterback who hasn’t produced more TDs than turnovers since 2010.

*Our pick: Ravens 20-19.


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