After a dominant defensive performance in Week 1, the San Francisco 49ers face a much stiffer road test against a vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers attack Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field.
San Francisco and first-year head coach Jim Tomsula were panned before the start of the season, following an exodus of defensive and offensive line personnel and the lack of development by quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
But the 49ers responded by pasting Minnesota 20-3 behind 168 rushing yards and two touchdowns from second-year running back Carlos Hyde and returning linebacker NaVorro Bowman leading a defense that let up a mere 248 yards and one third down conversion.
Kaepernick didn’t put up huge numbers, going 17-for-26 for 165 yards, but rather returned to the style of play that made him a rising star in the league with 41 rushing yards on seven attempts.
The one drawback to the victory, which put San Francisco in line for its first 2-0 start since 2012 (the year they last went to the Super Bowl), was the eight penalties for a loss of 57 yards.
Handing extra yardage and plays to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers, even though Tomsula shed a better light on the mishaps as players simply trying to “go that extra mile,” likely won’t yield the same result on the road.
Pittsburgh unloaded 464 total offensive yards against defending champion New England in its season opener, more than 100 yards than the Patriots could muster, but finished off only two drives for touchdowns. It was the kind of performance that suggests the Steelers could again be one of the NFL’s top offenses, and that they won’t be denied trips to the end zone too often this season.
The Steelers were even a solid 7-for-15 on third down, with Roethlisberger launching for 351 yards and one score to receiver Antonio Brown, who capped his night with 133 yards off nine receptions including several acrobatic grabs that could give San Francisco’s defensive backs fits.
And, filling in for the suspended Le’Veon Bell, veteran DeAngelo Williams recorded 127 rushing yards at a clip of 6.0 yards per carry.
On defense is where Pittsburgh could get burned, especially with six players making their first appearances on the injury report. Cornerbacks Cortez Allen (knee) and Brandon Boykin (groin), safeties Will Allen (concussion) and Mike Mitchell (hip), as well as linebackers Ryan Shazier (knee) and Sean Spence (hamstring) are all banged up and suggest the 49ers could pound the ball in any direction they desire.
Thus far no one’s been ruled out, though Shazier, Cortez Allen, and Boykin have either not practiced or been limited this week.
The 49ers enter the matchup healthy, with only running back Reggie Bush (calf) appearing on their injury report. Bush, who sat out against the Vikings, didn’t practice on Wednesday or Thursday and San Francisco could hold him back again with the ground game playing so well without him.
Kickoff Time: 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Live Online: NFL Game Pass