By Oli Tyler – NFL Writer
Sunday sees the Steelers take on an undefeated 49ers, the Steelers need to win to avoid starting the season with 3 straight losses. Based on recent history, this is a talented Steelers team that almost got to the playoffs just last season. The pressure will continue to ratchet up on Coach Mike Tomlin until his team plays more to its potential, especially the Defence which continues to give up yards and points at an alarming rate.
For a team that has the 3rd longest-tenured coach and a GM in Kevin Colbert who has been around even longer, there is seemingly a great deal of instability. With rumors of Colbert leaving at the end of the season and that Tomlin’s position is not as secure as it once was having missed out on the post-season last year.
This season was not meant to be like this, the negative locker room characters of Brown and Bell have gone; this was meant to be the season where stars like Smith-Schuster and Conner stepped up to fill that production and a unified, harmonious Steelers locker room marched towards the promised land. Instead, the undefeated 49ers are the overwhelming bookie’s favorites playing at home against a Steelers team that don’t have their starting QB, a victory this season or an identity.
Mason Rudolph is surely the most talented QB to back up Big Ben, certainly based on first impressions in the Seattle game. Rudolph certainly has the pedigree, drafted in the Third Round of the 2018 Draft. Who knows how much longer Big Ben will continue to play, he’s talked of retirement in the past, and now Rudolph has an opportunity to impress, and the Steelers can see if they have their QB of the future. Against Seattle, Rudolph looked poised and moved the chains better than Big Ben had in his short stint on the field.
Rudolph is a very different QB to Big Ben and offers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner an opportunity to be more structured in his gameplan, opposed to the occasional sandlot plays that happen as Big Been extends a play and looks deep. For the Steelers to win this game, it can’t all be on Rudolph’s shoulders as it has sat on Roethlisberger’s in the past.
The Defence and running game is going to need to step up. Both have started the season poorly with the defense allowing 890 yards (29th in League) and 61 points (28th in League), while the rushing game has contributed a paltry 113 yards across two games, (29th in League). The offensive line does not look as good as last season and that is having a real impact, they need to get back to the high standard they have set themselves.
These 3 areas; the offensive line, the running game and the defense form the key trinity that drives the team. The Offensive line creates gaps for the Running game which increases the time of possession, which allows the defense more rest and means the starters don’t need to be rotated as the Steelers don’t have as much depth as other teams.
The Steelers defense against the run; the 49ers base so much of their offense on the rush and the threat of the running game. IF and it is a big if the Steelers’ defense can slow down the run it’s their best chance of winning this game. The 49ers showed when they get going as last week against the Bengals their running game is potent, it doesn’t seem to matter who the running back is they are going to get yards. Highlighting why so many people around the league respect Shanahan as one of the most gifted offensive minds.
The 49ers Defence has really improved this season as the huge investment in their defensive line starts to pay off in a big way. Having started the season with 2 wins the 49ers are feeling confident but they haven’t come up against a team that had won more than 6 games last season in their schedule; the Steelers pose their biggest challenge yet.
The Steelers have to win this game to stay in the hunt of the AFC North with the Ravens at 2 and 0, and the Browns starting to find their stride at 1 and 1. Ultimately in a close game, the Steelers will stop the slump and win their first game of the season with Rudolph showing a lot of promise in his first NFL start.
Prediction: Niners 20, Steelers 23