The Steelers head out west, with an 0-2 record to take on the 2-0 49ers. The 49ers are a team on the rise while there is now some serious debate about who or what the Steelers are.
With the season-ending injury to Ben Roethlisberger, the team must now turn to second-year man Mason Rudolph to lead the charge. Rudolph performed well in his debut last week, with some very Roethlisberger like numbers. Will he be able to repeat that in his first career start?
I think he can but I don’t think he will. It’s not that he’ll make mistakes, it’s that the Steeler should and hopefully will, implement a heavy rushing attack to take pressure off Rudolph. They need to run the ball 30 times or more, control the clock and keep the game as low scoring as possible.
While all of Steelers Nation is certainly excited by Rudolph’s youth and ability and his inarguable connection with his college teammate James Washington, the team needs to take it slow with him, as they did with a young Roethlisberger. They need to let him get his feet wet, let the ground game dictate the offense and allow the defense to pick up the slack.
That’s where the bigger question lies, however. Is this defense capable of picking up that much needed slack? Roethlisberger and his abilities were often able to mask and overcome the shortcomings on all sides of the ball. With him gone, the defense needs to do their part.
The arrival of Minkah Fitzpatrick should certainly electrify the team and the defense but he too will need to be slowly eased in. Let’s not forget that he just arrived this week. I expect him to be a force in the secondary but I’m willing to allow him a little time to adjust to new schemes and teammates. While he, along with the rest of the secondary need to prevent Jimmy Garoppolo from going downfield, who will stop George Kittle?
Keith Butler always has trouble stopping big-time tight ends and if history serves as any indication, he’ll have trouble again.
He needs to have his blitzers get home on Garoppolo, he needs to have Kittle covered by someone capable and he needs to ensure he makes adjustments mid-game as Kyle Shanahan will on the other side. If he doesn’t, it won’t matter what Rudolph and the offense does, it will be lights out.
While I think the Steelers have the talent and will win 8 games or so this season, they aren’t going to get that first win on Sunday in San Francisco. There are too many reasons this team isn’t quite ready yet and it’ll have to wait another week.
San Francisco 31 - Pittsburgh 23