Week 2: Top 10 49ers, Steelers to watch
Steelers not at full strength
The 49ers have a short week after beginning the season with a victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night. The Pittsburgh Steelers have a long week, having opened their year last Thursday with a loss at the New England Patriots. In their home opener, the Steelers will be without running back Le'Veon Bell and wide receiver Martavis Bryant, who continue to serve suspensions...
10) TE Vernon Davis
It’s shocking to think that when Davis opened the season with three receptions for 47 yards, it was his most productive game since Dec. 15, 2013, when he caught 79 yards in passes against Tampa Bay. The 49ers feature a lot of three-TE formations, and Davis represents the team’s most-explosive playmaker from that spot. Colin Kaepernick must continue to get him involved in the team’s passing game.
9) RB DeAngelo Williams
While Bell is out for one more week, the Steelers will again get the ball into the hands of Williams a lot in the run game. Williams, a 10-year pro, dropped nearly 20 pounds from his days in Carolina and looked much quicker in the opener. He rushed for 127 yards on 21 attempts. The 49ers’ defense will be focused on slowing down the passing game, and that could open the door for Williams to make some plays.
8) S Jaquiski Tartt
The second-round draft pick has performed so well that the 49ers have already found a significant role for him in the team’s defense. The 49ers played six defensive backs a lot in the opener. And they figure to do it even more against the Steelers. At times, Tartt will draw the assignment of covering tight end Heath Miller. Other times, he’ll be asked to blitz. He should be very active in the game plan.
7) WR Antonio Brown
Brown has an NFL-record streak of 33 games with at least five receptions and at least 50 yards. So it’s a given the Steelers will feature him prominently in the game plan. Brown provides the 49ers’ young secondary with the biggest challenge it will face all season. The Steelers will look to get him the ball on short, intermediate and deep routes. And he’s also a major factor as a punt returner, too.
6) Defensive coordinator Eric Mangini
The 49ers’ defense lived up to its billing as a unit that will be a lot more aggressive this season. And the man pushing the buttons, Mangini, faces big decisions on Sunday against an explosive Pittsburgh offense. Did the 49ers show all their tricks against Minnesota? “With all the tools we installed in OTAs and camp, I think we just showed a small package of what we can do,” 49ers linebacker Michael Wilhoite said.
5) LB Ryan Shazier
The second-year player is a full-time starter and will be counted upon heavily in the middle of the Steelers’ defense. His main task on Sunday will be to read the 49ers’ zone-blocking scheme and be in the right hole to track his former Ohio State teammate, Carlos Hyde, also a second-year player. Shazier has been limited due to a knee condition, but he expects to play.
4) CB Tramaine Brock
Brock showed why he is the 49ers’ top cornerback on Monday night as he picked up where he left off in 2013 (following a 2014 season in which he rarely got on the field due to injuries). Brock intercepted a pass and played strong in coverage against the Vikings. On Sunday, his tackling skills will be put to the test. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger likes to throw bubble screens to Brown on Brock’s side.
3) WR Torrey Smith
Smith was quiet on Monday night after grabbing an 11-yard reception early in the game. But the threat of his deep speed might have had an impact in the game, discouraging the Vikings from stacking the line of scrimmage to stop the run. Smith knows all about the Steelers from playing his entire career in the AFC North with the Baltimore Ravens. Colin Kaepernick will look to get him involved in the deep-passing game at some point.
2) QB Ben Roethlisberger
Roethlisberger averaged 310 yards passing per game last season. He opened with a 351-yard showing against New England. The Steelers’ offense is prolific. Roethlisberger will challenge the 49ers’ entire defense from beginning to end. Roethlisberger will target the 49ers’ secondary, as the league is still learning about cornerback Kenneth Acker, who makes his second NFL appearance after sitting out his rookie year with an injury.
1) RB Carlos Hyde
Exit Frank Gore. Enter Carlos Hyde. The style of the 49ers’ run game has changed dramatically, but the bottom line is the same. The 49ers want to run the ball, and Hyde is a perfect match for their new zone-blocking scheme. He was particularly effective on the stretch plays in which he makes the read and chooses through which hole to run. If Hyde is effective, that should keep the Steelers' explosive offense off the field and open things up in the passing game for Kaepernick, too.