Preview: 2015 – Game 2 – San Francisco 49ers

Oddly, it feels like forever since the Steelers played. We wait months for this time of year, and the Steelers open the preseason, plus open the regular season, and we’re still not happy!

When you have a few extra days to find “stories” to cover, things like Brandon Boykin, being reportedly unhappy about playing time, surface. Boykin was limited in practice Wednesday and did not participate Thursday. He will need to get on the field Friday to even have a remote chance of seeing playing time Sunday against the 49ers.

For Brandon’s sake, I hope he’s not the next Lance Moore: who was injured for a large chunk of the start of last season and then complained about playing time, after he lost his spot. Moral of the story: you have to practice to play. Thus, this is a non-story and I don’t want to hear about how Boykin could’ve prevented anything this weekend: if you’re hurt, you can’t help period.

Thus is the volatility of the NFL. Everyone must be replaceable, and in theory, everyone is replaceable. The injury report was favorable for Will Allen and Mike Mitchell, the center of the Steelers secondary, who will need to be on high alert for the Steelers home opener after Carlos Hyde torched the Vikings defense for 168 yards rush and 2 TDs.

I call out the secondary, in particular, because the defense as a whole will be focused on the running game, which I believe, is the only way San Francisco competes in this game. The Niners will need to eat up the clock with the run to limit Steelers possession, while forcing pressure from their own defense, who had 5 sacks on Viking QB Teddy Bridgewater last Monday.

Either the Vikings offense was really bad, or the Niners defense was really good. It’s hard to gauge this early in the season, but I wasn’t hitching my saddles to a San Francisco team in a major state of change. The Vikings were a miserable 1/9 on third down and 0/2 on 4th against the Niners.

However, it’s the Steelers who get several advantages in the schedule: San Fran is operating on a short week, traveling from the West Coast for a 1pm game, and Pittsburgh themselves had several extra days of rest from their Thursday night affair with New England. In that game, the Steelers offense put up 464 total yards, going converting 7 of 15 third downs and 2 of 2 on 4th down.

That’s why some feel Pittsburgh has to make 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick beat them. Colin went an unimpressive 17 for 26 passing for 165 yards, but also carried the ball 7 times for 41 yards. Combined, the Niners ran 39 times for 230 total yards: 13 more times than they passed…

Stopping the run will be the priority.

However, I feel the Vikings lack of spark on offense was their downfall. Again, some credit goes to the Niners defense, but I feel Ben Roethlisberger is a much better quarterback than Bridgewater, and is surrounded by a number of weapons that San Francisco will have to account for. Even if San Fran puts up 20 points (2 TDs and 2 Phil Dawson field goals) I believe the Steelers can easily surpass that score, provided they don’t shoot themselves in the foot. Settling for field goals is okay in some scenarios, but the Steelers will want better efficiency in the red zone. Committing penalties and moving backwards could put them in a situation where the game could be tight.

And I’m still assuming we see less than 30 throws from Kaepernick, and Hyde will get 100 yards. I’m okay with that to some degree. Teams aren’t tackling very well into September. It’s like they need to knock the rust off and that’s the way the new NFL is. We will all be frustrated on Sunday and the coming weeks, but it will get better… Look at it this way, DeAngelo Williams was dodging Patriots players, while New England always gets credit for being the “best” prepared team in the league… yet, coach Bill Belichick says September is an “extension of training camp.”

When coaches don’t play their players in the preseason (for fear of having millionaire superstars get hurt) and they aren’t permitted to have as many full contact days as they had in yesteryear, you’ll see this stuff throughout the first few games. I’ve come to live with it, but understand where some fans get frustrated. We have to temper our expectations and see football as others see baseball: it’s a long season.

Therefore, there will be growing pains as the team finds it’s identity. I still feel Pittsburgh will have much better success moving the ball against San Francisco’s defense than the Vikings did. I think they will struggle at times with the 49er running game. I don’t think the 49ers offense will get that many opportunities to score as Pittsburgh will. The Steelers crossed the 50 yard line 7 times last week, which at the minimum, should’ve accounted for 21 points. Score a TD or two, and they easily have 30+.

Points were left on the board, and should they move the ball the same way (which there’s no reason to think they won’t) I see similar, if not better success on the offensive side of the ball. Pair that with playing at home, with travel and rest advantage, and we should see one team fresher than the other.

That’s why I feel the Steelers can make this a statement game.

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