The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their 2015 regular season home opener Sunday at Heinz Field and below are six things that they’ll likely need to accomplish in order to win the game.
Hyde and Seek – 49ers running back Carlos Hyde had a great 2015 debut against the Minnesota Vikings as he rushed for 168 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. Hyde can run effectively both inside and outside and most of his success was outside of the left guard. Additionally, Hyde gained 101 of his 168 after first contact against the Vikings so solid tackling by the Steelers defense will be a must in this game. The 49ers will likely try to bully the Steelers defensive front with two and three tight end sets so linebackers Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier will both have to be active Sunday in helping to shut down their running attack. Expect the Steelers to play a lot of base early on the game in addition to bringing a safety down into the box in an attempt to force 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to throw the ball down the field.
Pocket Kaepernick – The 49ers signal caller isnt afraid to tuck the football and run on passing downs if he doesn’t like his first look and he feels pressure. He ran seven times against the Vikings Monday night for 41 yards and six of those were scrambles. The Steelers front has to stay in their rush lanes and make sure that they contain and squeeze from the outside. Kaepernick doesn’t like to throw under pressure from within the pocket as that’s when he is susceptible to mistakes with the football.
Make 49ers Go To 11 – The 49ers used very little 11 personnel against the Vikings because of the success they had running the football out of their aforementioned two and three tight end sets. It also helped that the game was close through three quarters. If the Steelers offense can jump on the 49ers early with a few scores, San Francisco will have to alter their offensive identity and that will result in more three wide receiver sets and Kaepernick having to throw down the field from the pocket. That’s not his game.
Dink and Dunk – I expect the 49ers to play a lot of cover-2 Sunday against the Steelers offense in an effort to keep everything underneath a shell to prevent the explosive plays. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger needs to take what is given him during the game and that could result in him throwing underneath to wide receivers Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton quite a bit. Additionally, running back DeAngelo Williams, an accomplished pass catcher out of the backfield, could see a lot of dump offs his direction. Roethlisberger needs to pick his deep shots carefully in this game.
Give the 49ers Blitz Fits – Against the Vikings Monday night, the 49ers defense blitzed on 14 of 40 dropbacks and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater finished 6-of-9 for 53 yards with an interception and four sacks on those plays when facing five or more pass rushers. Roethlisberger is three times the quarterback that Bridgewater is so he must make the 49ers pay when they send numbers at him.
No Special Hayne – During the preseason, Australian rugby star Jarryd Hayne returned nine punts for 163 yards. In his NFL debut, however, he fumbled his one opportunity and wide receiver Bruce Ellington replaced him. With Ellington questionable for Sunday’s game, Hayne figures to get an opportunity to redeem himself so the Steelers coverage unit needs to make sure that they keep his return average low and prevent him from flipping the field.
Prediction – Steelers 30 49ers 17