Six Points: 49ers vs. Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers return to friendlier confines, and hopefully functioning headsets, when they welcome the San Francisco 49ers in their home opener this Sunday.
Regardless of the communication issues, the Steelers struggled mightly on defense under new coordinator Keith Butler. Now they’ll have to get on the same page to defend against the leading rusher from Week 1 — Carlos Hyde, who steamrolled the Minnesota Vikings to the tune of 168 yards and two touchdowns.
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Here are three keys to victory for each team in Sunday’s game at Heinz Field:
1. Find Vernon Davis
The Steelers allowed four touchdowns to Patriots tight ends in Week 1, three of them courtesy of Rob Gronkowski. Vernon Davis is no Gronkowski, but he’s one season removed from a Pro Bowl season. Davis hauled in three catches for 47 yards against the Vikings, though a breakout performance could be on the horizon if Colin Kaepernick leans heavily on the veteran.
2. Feed Carlos Hyde
What will Hyde do for an encore? After 168 rushing yards and two scores in prime time, it’s hard to imagine a much better performance. But the Steelers allowed 69 yards on 15 totes to Dion Lewis (4.6 yards per carry). Imagine what Hyde could do with a bigger workload.
3. Contain Antonio Brown
The 49ers secondary wasn’t tested as much in part due to the pressure the defensive front applied throughout the night against Teddy Bridgewater. But they also didn’t face a receiver quite like Antonio Brown, who has caught at least five passes in 33 straight games. Limiting his production will be key for Eric Mangini’s unit in Week 2.
1. Stack the box
The Steelers will need to put eight men in the box to prevent Hyde from another banner day. Stuffing Hyde would put the ball in Kapernick’s hands more, which is exactly what Pittsburgh should hope for, even if the secondary is the weakest link in its defense.
2. Don’t overpursue Kaepernick
James Harrison and company love to get after the quarterback, but Kaepernick has the ability to make them pay if they get overzealous. The outside linebackers should stay in their lanes to prevent Kaepernick from getting outside the picket, where he does his best work.
3. Establish the run
Adrian Peterson failed to get anything going against the 49ers’ front seven Monday night, while DeAngelo Williams looked like his old self with 127 rushing yards on 21 carries in New England. While the temptation is always there to come out firing with this offense, the Steelers must stay patient and stay balanced. If the Steelers become one-dimensional, the San Francisco defense will look to hunt Ben Roethlisberger on every play.