On Sunday, Sept. 22, the Pittsburgh Steelers will play their Week 3 game against the San Francisco 49ers, a matchup they traveled 2,602 miles to play. The Steelers won the last matchup in 2015, 43-18. Overall, the 49ers control the series 11-10.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is done for the season with an elbow injury, so the undefeated 49ers will be dealing with backup quarterback, Mason Rudolph. Although it may seem like a cakewalk, the Steelers have history on their side.
It may seem like a weird fact, but the Steelers are 1-0 when a backup quarterback wearing No. 2 plays on the West Coast. That one game was led by Michael Vick. Rudolph, on the other hand, is making his first career start in his short NFL career.
On the sheets, this should be the 49ers’ third win. They easily can win with some key aspects too.
On the offensive side of the ball, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo must use his interior weapons. Steelers linebackers have shown great potential and upside, but they are new to the scheme.
If Garoppolo uses running back Matt Breida and tight end George Kittle in the passing game, the Steelers will be forced to pinch the defense. This will open lanes outside the tackles late in the game.
Defensively, DeForest Buckner and Nick Bosa must find a way to break through a nearly impenetrable offensive line. With blitzes and weird formations, the 49ers need to make Rudolph feel uncomfortable and create turnovers.
For the Steelers, they are full of question marks. However, to win this game, it will come down to smart play-calling and fundamental Steelers football.
On the offensive side of the ball, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner must keep the 11 personnel verticals scheme. The Steelers will have favorable matchups, other than JuJu Smith-Schuster being guarded by Richard Sherman.
If the Steelers can pace themselves and spread the offense out, Rudolph will lead them to a win.
Defensively, the Steelers must stack the box and pinch down. They cannot allow Garoppolo to throw anywhere across the middle as well as have the offensive linemen create holes for Breida. The defensive backs will need to help do their part as create turnovers to shorten the field for young Rudolph.
Overall, the Steelers can either flashback 15 years ago when Roethlisberger replaced Tommy Maddox after his elbow injury. This can be the beginning of the Steelers’ new era with Rudolph, or the 49ers can keep the smoke fuming. A 3-0 start will put the 49ers in an early driver’s seat for playoffs while the Steelers must win this game to stick with the Baltimore Ravens.