It's Week 3 of the 2019-20 NFL regular season, and after back-to-back losses, the Pittsburgh Steelers are looking for a big rebound on the West Coast when they go head-to-head with an unbeaten San Francisco Forty-Niners team that hosts their home opener on Sunday. 'Bold Predictions' is the Steel City Underground feature where our SCU team members throw caution to the wind after discussions in our backchannels all week and predict how the Steelers will fare in their weekly showdown. This week, nearly every SCU team member joined in.
Here we go!
A look back at last week's predictions
The lone SCU team member that had doubts about whether or not the Steelers would hand the Seattle Seahawks a loss was Mike Sofis. His prediction was pretty close to what actually happened.
"I'm picking the Steelers to lose in a close one because I don't believe either coordinator is equipped to have his players play at the level fans expect. The lack of WR options limits the offense as well." - Mike S.
As for the rest of us? Well, our Week 2 predictions were a mixed bag. Due to the elbow injury that forced Ben Roethlisberger to be replaced by Mason Rudolph, 'Big Ben' didn't get anywhere close to a predicted high number of throwing yards. Rudolph completed 12-of-19 passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns (to one interception on a tipped ball).
The Steelers did go back to the run game, with James Conner (11 carries for 33 yards and a touchdown), Benny Snell Jr. (one carry for 23 yards), and Jaylen Samuels (three carries for 18 yards). I predicted Conner and Samuels would combine for 25-plus carries (close, but a miss) and factor in with 10-plus targets in the passing game (they only recorded four catches between them).
I also thought that Diontae Johnson would get more action at receiver, which he did after Donte Moncrief allowed a ball to get through his hands and tipped it high enough that a Seattle defender was able to grab it for the interception. Johnson only caught one pass, however, for 17 yards and no touchdown.
A common prediction was that tight end Vance McDonald would be targeted more and the 'Vanimal' actually led the team with seven receptions (for 38 yards) and two touchdowns. Another theme was that the Steelers defense would be able to get to Russell Wilson and produce sacks. Pittsburgh logged four and yes, as predicted, Devin Bush got a takeaway.
Let's move on to what is predicted for Week 3.
Derek Overly: Alright, let’s flash back to Ben’s early years when he was a young game-manager tasked with simply keeping the ball safe. Who did he rely on? A young tight end in Heath Miller and a tough receiver in Hines Ward, plus of course a formidable run game. You’re going to see the same out of Mason Rudolph. James Conner and Jaylen Samuels will tote the rock upwards of 35 times this week, and Rudolph will target mostly Vance McDonald and JuJu Smith-Schuster (those two will combine for 16 receptions, 210 yards, and two touchdowns).
On the defensive side of the ball, you will start to see the actual identity take place thanks to the offense sustaining some drives and giving them time to rest. They will get off the quarterback early and often, tallying six sacks (led by T.J. Watt’s two). Devin Bush will finally start to come into his own and show that he was worth the pick, notching 12 tackles and a forced fumble, and our first interception of the year will come on a rushed throw picked off by Steven Nelson (shutdown corner).
Final score: Pittsburgh 28 - San Francisco 16
Noah Freeman: Mason Rudolph looks like a strong starting quarterback in the league, throwing for at least 275 yards and three touchdowns. The defense, with newly acquired Minkah Fitzpatrick, will get at least three turnovers, including one or two interceptions off of Jimmy Garoppolo. The defense will continue to get sacks with at least five and hold to 49ers to under 14 points.
Joe Kuzma: I'm operating under the assumption that James Conner not only plays, but Steelers running backs account for at least 25 touches to help limit what's asked of Mason Rudolph in his first start. The Steelers offensive line will be up to the task, assisting in any combination of Conner, Jaylen Samuels, and perhaps even a touch or two given to Benny Snell, gaining over 150 all-purpose yards, which will help control time of possession, keep the defense fresh, and help aide in a Steelers victory.
Brian Roach: Minkah Fitzpatrick makes his presence known. After a tumultuous week, Fitzpatrick joins Pittsburgh and starts his Steelers career off with an interception off of Jimmy Garoppolo. Washington/Rudolph connection revived (James Washington and Mason Rudolph played together in college) and their chemistry returns as the two team-up for a touchdown.
Terry Fletcher: With our missing defensive puzzle piece finally in Pittsburgh, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick will be our difference-maker on Sunday. I predict two interceptions for him. Mason Rudolph is California. What a great place to start this "Mr. Cool QB" and let him take the team to our first win of the season. His former college teammate, receiver James Washington, should see some major action and allow Juju to get open for what I believe will be a heavy passing game. Game score: 28-10 Steelers.
Zac Celedonia: Like Terry, I too am very excited to see the Steelers defense on Sunday. Hopes are high. Potential is high. The state of California, for the most part, will be high. Let's go Steelers! Hold the Niners to three points at home! Also, eight sacks and four turnovers for the PIT defense. Mason Rudolph finishes with 75 percent completion percentage, minimum. JuJu records ten-plus catches on Richard Sherman... oh, oh, one more... I bet the Steelers throw it deep on the first play. That's classic Steelers when they wanna come out and make a statement.
Christina Rivers: With everyone else talking a ton about Rudolph-to-Washington, the defense turning up the heat, and a big game from the Steelers, it gave me the rare opportunity to look at a couple of things that weren't previously mentioned. Call it the 'luck' of being the person to put the predictions together in one article.
With a lot of the focus on offense on Smith-Schuster and Washington, I predict Diontae Johnson and Ryan Switzer will play a bigger factor this week than they have previously. Why? Randy Fichtner went conservative with the play-calling when Rudolph was sent in for his first NFL regular-season game last week. Rudolph doesn't need his hand to be held, now, and he'll be looking for those underneath routes as the 'Niners worry themselves over pressuring him and the deep routes. McDonald will factor into that equation as well.
Jaylen Samuels will get to be himself in a swiss-army knife role once again, and I expect he'll get the majority of the rushing duties and become what Zac likes to call the "Z Factor". He should be able to log 15-plus carries on his own.
San Francisco has a decent team this season, but their offense only goes as far as "Jimmy G" takes them, so I think this could turn into a close game. That's why the Steelers will count on Chris Boswell, who has gotten a bit of his mojo back, to give them the win by being perfect in the field goal and point-after special teams game.