Sunday, September 20, 2015

Steelers GamePlay: Week 2 vs. San Francisco


STEELERS GAME DAY
Week 2: vs. San Francisco 49ers
Details: 1 p.m., Sunday, Heinz Field (68,400)
TV: FOX
Radio: WDVE-FM (102.5), WMBA-AM (1230), WBVP-AM (1460)
MEMORABLE MOMENT
Steelers 30, 49ers 17 Sept. 13, 1987
Mark Malone completed just nine of 33 passes for 99 yards but it was still good enough to win in Week 1 at Three Rivers Stadium. The loss was just one of two for San Francisco (13-2) in the strike-shortened '87 season. Malone's San Francisco counterpart, Joe Montana, threw for 316 yards and two touchdowns, including one to Jerry Rice, but the future Hall of Famer was picked off three times (Delton Hall, Mike Merriweather and Dwayne Woodruff). Hall returned a fumble 51 yards for a touchdown and Gary Anderson connected on three field goals for the Steelers, who finished the season 8-7. Charles Haley, inducted into Canton last month, recorded his first career sack.
BIG QUESTION
Will we see more of Brandon Boykin or Dri Archer against San Francisco?
You couldn't see any less from Boykin than you did at New England. For the first time in his four-year career, Boykin didn't play a single defensive snap in Week 1. Compounding Boykin's frustration was the inability of the Steelers' secondary, Antwon Blake in particular, to even limit Tom Brady. If Blake continues to struggle or Cortez Allen doesn't show more, Boykin should be the next man up. To be fair, other than Boykin's pedigree (six picks in 2013), he hasn't shown much in the preseason or in practice to warrant a promotion. Boykin didn't practice much this week with a groin injury and may not play. Regardless of what happens against the 49ers, a team that isn't going to throw much, expect Boykin to take on a bigger role in Week 3 as the Steelers face St. Louis QB Nick Foles, his former Philadelphia teammate. Other than on kickoffs, it's hard to see Archer making much of an impact this week. He had three snaps on offense last week.
BREAKDOWN
When the Steelers have the ball ...
They absolutely must finish drives in the end zone instead of resorting to field goal attempts. The Steelers' goal offensively is to score 30 points per game, and if they have 450-plus yards of offense like they did against New England, there should be no reason why they can’t score 30 Sunday. The 49ers, who had five sacks last week, will blitz from many positions, so protecting Ben Roethlisberger will be important to sustaining long drives.
When the 49ers have the ball ...
The Steelers have struggled in recent years defending read-option quarterbacks like Colin Kaepernick, so staying on their keys and not over-pursuing on a play will be important in getting off the field. The 49ers also like to employ plenty of two tight end formations, which is something the Steelers had trouble defending against the Patriots. Don't look for the Steelers to unveil much more of their Cover-2 zone against Kapernick as they're likely to stack eight in the box. The Niners also utilize an outside zone scheme, another long-time Steelers nemesis. The Steelers' front seven also must find a way to stop a 49ers running game that ran for 230 yards against the Vikings on Monday night.
KEY MATCHUP
QB Ben Roethlisberger vs. 49ers S Antoine Bethea
MLB NaVorro Bowman is the leader of the 49ers' defense, but the Steelers will have to find Bethea on each play. Bethea, a three time Pro-Bowler, is one of the best safeties in the league in defending both the run and the pass. Bethea has registered 648 tackles since 2006, ranking second in the NFL among defensive backs in that time. Roethlisberger and the offense will have to account for wherever Bethea lines up on Sunday.
Q&A: With LT ALEJANDRO VILLANUEVA
As told to Chris Bradford:
CB: You made your NFL debut last week in New England. What was that experience like? Everything you hoped?
AV: Obviously, not to be offsides. I think I was offsides with Beachum (in the fourth quarter). It was one of those funny situations. But nothing changes. You just have to treat it like another preseason game, another practice. That's what I try to do. Hopefully the playbook gets a little bigger for me but I understand my role and try and do anything I can to the best of my ability.
CB: Being a little hard on yourself, aren't you? Beachum was offsides, too, and that was a pretty controversial play.
AV: Nah, it was my fault. We knew that they were going to do that. It's my fault. It was a matter of me staying more concentrated and understanding the situation of the game better. We knew they were going to do that. It was completely my fault.
CB: Going from the military to out of football and to the NFL in such a short span, has it all sunk in yet?
AV: It's been a great experience. Last year was good to kind of get in shape and absorb all this culture and this world of the NFL. Right now, I feel pretty comfortable with where I'm at. I just have to continue to be hungry and continue to get better.
CB: How much did a year on the practice squad help you?
AV: Tremendously. It was crucial for me to be here right now. A great experience in terms of my teammates and my coaches and the treatment I received from this organization, but at the same time from a development standpoint, my technique and being able to get better every day was a really good experience and opportunity for me.
NOTEWORTHY
Few mortals can relate to what Antonio Brown has accomplished on a football field the past three seasons or so. Randy Moss is one. Brown might be the best receiver in the game today, but Moss is a future Hall of Famer and the NFL's third all-time leading receiver with 15,292 yards. Though Moss is three years into retirement (he spent his last season with the 49ers) and 11 years older, Brown still invites the former Vikings star to workout with him in the summer and keeps in contact throughout the year. "I call him every week," Brown said. "I learn regiment. How to take care of myself. How to preserve my body. How to look for some things to get open. Just pick his brain. For him to do it at a high level for so long ... just how he takes care of himself and fundamentals." Brown had nine receptions in Week 1 after having 129 last season, the second most in league history (Moss, by the way, had a career-high 111 catches in 2003). While the superlatives add up Brown says it's not his primary concern. "Numbers are always great, but our business is winning," he said.
Between the Patriots' reliance on their passing game and Tom Brady's quick release, the Steelers defensive line faced a tough matchup in New England. Still, the Steelers were able to get seven hurries on Brady. With the 49ers on tap, the line figures to earn their money against a San Francisco team that is committed to the run game. That suits Steve McLeondon just fine. Because the Steelers were in sub-packages most of the game, the nose tackle played just 24 snaps against the Patriots. Still, he was the highest-rated Steelers defender last week. "I can't complain," said McLendon. "I just know I can get better each and every week. I'll have another opportunity this week going against some good players, some Pro Bowlers, some guys that they're founded on running the ball. That's their biggest thing. I just have to do my game, play hard, play fast and play smart."
Sunday’s game will be the ninth time Ben Roethlisberger has started a home opener (he's 7-1 entering the game). While the home opener may seem like old hat to a 12-year veteran, it’s something that Roethlisberger never tires. “It’s awesome,” Roethlisberger said. “Maybe a little more special because it’s the first of the year, but it’s going to be fun. I love seeing the towels and the stadium shake. It’s pretty cool.”
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley has coached the likes of Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Jamaal Charles and Le'Veon Bell. But it’s TE Heath Miller who may be, in Haley’s opinion, the best of them all. “Maybe the best football player I ever been around,” Haley said. With his eight catches against New England, Miller passed John Stallworth for second all-time on the Steelers’ career receptions list with 540. Although Miller may not have the speed or athleticism he had years ago, Haley believes Miller is still reliable as ever. “I don’t think it’s the young Heath,” Haley said. “Not quite as dynamic, but, man, what a football player. All-around just what he brings to you in a quiet, unassuming way, but commands such leadership.”
The 49ers' defense put together an impressive performance against the Vikings in their 20-3 win Monday night. But unlike the Vikings, they will be going up against an improved Steelers offense with a veteran quarterback, a fact that doesn’t escape 49ers coach Jim Tomsula. “Todd Haley calls a heck of a football game, and I have the utmost respect for (Mike) Tomlin,” Tomsula said. “Sometimes you’d rather run into a wall than run into Roethlisberger. You get that stuff going on offense and there’s a lot of weapons, and they use all their weapons. We’re walking into a hell of a football game.”
PREDICTION
Colin Kaepernick can run and he can hide, but he's not going to throw, at least not accurately enough, to expose the weakness in the Steelers secondary. In a matchup far more conducive to success, the Steelers' front seven should be able to stop Kaepernick, Carlos Hyde and the 49ers run game. Behind a line that keeps him clean, Ben Roethlisberger puts 30 points on the board. ... Steelers 31, 49ers 20
BY THE NUMBERS
0: Consecutive games lost by the Steelers in 2014
0.5: Number of sacks LB James Harrison needs to join Jason Gildon (77) as the only Steelers with 70 career sacks.
3: Combined missed field goals in Week 1 for kickers Josh Scobee (2) and San Francisco's Phil Dawson (1)
29: Combined seasons for Scobee (12) and Dawson (17)
89.4: Average yards per game for WR Anquan Boldin in seven games against the Steelers since 2011. In those seven games, Boldin has 44 catches for 626 yards and four touchdowns.
236: Dollars for median ticket price at Heinz Field for Steelers games on Vivid Seats, a secondary market outlet. That's the NFL's eighth-highest price. Seattle is the highest at $433 and Cincinnati the lowest at $111.
QUOTEWORTHY
“I think the biggest thing would be our preparation. Making sure that throughout the week, we’re on top of all of our assignments, on top of our fundamentals and techniques to allow us to go out and execute and play well.” -- Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco QB, on the 49ers' 9-3 record in their last dozen games in the Eastern time zone.

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