SAN FRANCISCO (KDKA)- The 2019 season has gotten off to a great start for the San Francisco 49ers, who enter this Sunday’s matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers 2-0. Those wins came against the Buccaneers and Bengals.
The Niners offense has been rolling, thanks to quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and a rushing attack led by Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert. With a defense that has been stingy in the first two games, San Fran has caught some off guard with their strong start.
“I’m really surprised, and if I’m a San Francisco 49ers fan, encouraged by what they have been able to do,” said Bob Pompeani, sports anchor at KDKA in Pittsburgh. “Jimmy Garoppolo, after a real bad preseason, has turned it on. The run game has been spectacular. They have the one thing that has given the Steelers problems time and time again, which is a tight end over the middle. We saw it last week against Seattle, where Will Dissly got behind Devin Bush twice, and he is nowhere near the player George Kittle is. I expect that to be something San Francisco tries to attack.”
The 49ers’ season has been the exact opposite of Pittsburgh’s so far, with the team pulling out two wins and avoiding major injuries for the most part. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, saw quarterback Ben Roethlisberger go down for the season with an elbow injury last Sunday. Making matters worse, they have lost their first two games. With Mason Rudolph taking over the offense’s reins, the entire team will need to step up and help the second-year player as he makes his first start.
“It is going to take all hands on deck, as Mike Tomlin likes to say,” said Pompeani. “Ben Roethlisberger has been there 16 straight years, he has never had a losing season, and he has been the centerpiece of their offense. Now, he is gone suddenly, but that is why they invested in Mason Rudolph.”
Rudolph, the team’s third-round pick in last year’s draft, put together a solid showing in relief of Roethlisberger last weekend, throwing for 112 yards and two touchdowns. He also had an interception and averaged just 5.8 yards per pass attempt. However, he will have had a full week to prepare as a starter this time around.
The offense surrounding Rudolph does have plenty of weapons, from wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to running back James Conner to former college running mate James Washington. The plethora of options should allow Rudolph to be fairly comfortable operating within the offense. Expect the coaches to play to his strengths.
It won’t be easy going against a 49ers defense that, through two weeks, ranks second in the league in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric behind only the New England Patriots. San Fran has been good at getting to the passer, with seven sacks and an adjusted sack rate of 9.3 percent, which is good for fifth in the league through two weeks.
In considering all of these factors and the oddsmakers’ belief that the 49ers are 6.5-point favorites entering the game, it would seem the Steelers have their work cut out for them. But, Pompeani says there is one big factor playing in the Steelers’ favor.
“I’m going with a desperate team here. The Steelers have to win if they hope to get back on track,” said Pompeani. “It’s going to take a big effort, and I think they will squeeze one out 17-16. It may not be one of those games where you look back and say that was wonderful to watch. The ugly could be boring, but for them (the Steelers), they just need to get a win.”
The 49ers and Steelers are set for a 1:25 p.m. Pacific Time kick-off on CBS.