Vick completed 5 of 6 passes for 38 yards after he entered late in the third quarter of Sunday’s win, but only two were targeted more than 10 yards downfield.
That won’t be good enough to replace Roethlisberger, who paced the league last year, passing for 4,952 yards with 32 touchdowns and nine interceptions. If Vick stumbles, the Steelers will have little to no chance of competing with the division-leading Bengals, who are 3-0 with an impressive win against the Ravens in Week 3.
The good news is Vick has a better supporting cast than he ever has, starting with receiver Antonio Brown, who led the NFL in receptions and receiving yards last year.
Brown leads the league in yards per route run this season (4.32) and is 5 for 5 on catchable deep balls (those targeted at least 20 yards) for 213 of his 436 receiving yards, giving Vick one of the league’s most dynamic big-play threats. Vick’s deep passing ability wasn’t on display Sunday, but last season he completed 3 of 17 deep balls and had three others dropped, so he can make those throws if needed.
Receiver Darius Heyward-Bey has also been solid, catching 11 of 15 for 154 yards and a touchdown, producing a 100.4 passer rating on passes thrown his way. And the team will get receiver Martavis Bryant back in a week as he returns from his own four-game ban. Bryant scored eight touchdowns as a rookie in just 10 games.
The Steelers also have running back Le’Veon Bell to help take the pressure off the Steelers’ passing game. Bell rushed for 1,361 yards and eight touchdowns in his sophomore year, breaking 55 tackles (third most in league) while averaging over 2.4 yards per attempt after contact. In his first game back from suspension, Bell rushed for 62 yards and a score plus added 70 receiving yards.
“I’m prepared for whatever,” Bell said. “If Ben goes down, it might be a little more headed toward the running game if the franchise quarterback is down. We revolve a lot of things around him. That’s something I prepare for. I’m ready for whatever they ask me to do. I don’t think there is ever a time when there is too much on my shoulders. I want to go out there and continue to make plays and help this team win games.”
His 19 rush attempts from his first game back wasn’t close to his season high from last year (33 in Week 11 against Tennessee) but it is still at the outer limits of what to expect from the running game. Which turns it back to Vick.
“I wish it could have been better,” Vick said. “I wish I could have done some things differently, but that will come with weeks of work. . . . I was brought here for a reason, so I have to hold it down until No. 7 gets back.”
According to ESPN’s QBR metric, Roethlisberger is worth 9.4 points per game over a quarterback who plays very rarely and is on the fringe of the NFL and 6.4 points per game above the level of an average quarterback. Depending on where you think Vick lies on the spectrum, Roethlisberger is worth a touchdown more per game than his replacement, and that’s with Roethlisberger in the top two of the league for both metrics.
Bell added 61.4 expected points over 16 games, making him worth 3.8 points per game. Bryant added an additional 24.3 points in 10 games, or 2.4 per game. So those two combined should be able to make up the difference in the scoring, and keep the Steelers on track for a playoff berth.