On Sunday afternoon, the San Francisco 49ers will host the Pittsburgh Steelers at Levi’s Stadium. There are important matchups to consider when trying to determine a winner, but the quarterbacks likely hold the keys to victory. Jimmy Garoppolo and Mason Rudolph must have great games in order for their team to succeed.
The 49ers will be in front of their home fans for the first time when they play the Steelers Sunday at Levi Stadium. San Francisco has enjoyed early success on the road this season, defeating both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Cincinnati Bengals in consecutive weeks. Now they’ll be trying to prove the old adage, “There’s no place like home.”
Jimmy Garoppolo and Mason Rudolph Hold Keys to Victory in Week Three
Quarterback Play Will Be Key
There are some key matchups to identify when trying to determine a winner of this game. We’ll take a look at some of those, but most importantly will be the play of the two quarterbacks. Especially on the Pittsburgh side as a second-year player, Rudolph will be making the second start of his career. Long-time Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is lost for the season after surgery to repair a damaged elbow. It’s a major blow to an already struggling team.
Rudolph is a big kid, who played his college football for Oklahoma State and was drafted in the third round of last year’s NFL draft. He’s similar in size to the injured Ben Roethlisberger but doesn’t have the arm strength or ability to read defenses as Ben did. That will come with age and experience. He was pressed into action last week against the Seattle Seahawks and played pretty well. He threw two touchdowns but had a costly interception as well. If the Steelers are to have any luck against the aggressive San Francisco defense, Rudolph will have to find another gear.
Garoppolo had a much better game in Cincinnatti than he did in Tampa Bay. That said, his running game was also much more successful, averaging 6.2 yards a carry. That allowed Jimmy to utilize the entire field and find eight different receivers on the day. Garoppolo came up three yards short of 300 yards and passed for three touchdowns. He’ll need another good day to lead the 49ers to success against a stingy Steeler defense.
The Other Key Matchups
George Kittle vs. Devin Bush
Kittle is a beast. He hasn’t had the breakout game yet this season but Sunday could well be his day. He runs excellent routes and finds cracks in the defense better than any other tight end in football. He’s a matchup nightmare for linebackers, but the Steelers feel they might have the answer in the very athletic rookie out of Michigan, Devin Bush.
The Steelers added safety Minkah Fitzpatrick to their secondary via a trade with the Miami Dolphins this week. He should help immediately against the pass, the responsibility of covering Kittle will likely fall on rookie Bush. Bush has been all over the field this year for Pittsburgh. He’s very athletic and has a ton of speed at linebacker. He has eighteen tackles through two weeks and has shown flashes of excellence. He’ll have his hands full Sunday with Kittle, but if he’s effective he could really swing the entire game.
Skule is a rookie offensive tackle out of Vanderbilt. He was drafted to eventually replace 49ers ironman Joe Staley. They just didn’t expect him to replace him this soon. Staley suffered an injury in Week Two and it looks as if he’s going to be on the shelf for a couple of months. Enter Skule. The 6’6″, 338 pounder got a pro-style education playing in the SEC. He played well when forced into action last week.
This week he’ll be lined up against the younger brother of J.J. Watt. T.J. possesses strength and speed and had 13 sacks last year. He has one sack this season and if he’s able to pressure Jimmy Garoppolo Sunday, he could well disrupt the entire offense. It’s up to rookie Skule to see to it that it doesn’t happen.
49ers D-line vs. Pittsburgh O-line
The 49ers have aggressively attacked the quarterback this season and if they can pressure Rudolph he could unwind. It’s a major factor in Sunday’s game. The Pittsburgh offensive line will have to keep the 49ers out of the backfield. That’s no small task when you’re dealing with Dee Ford, Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, and Ronald Blair. They’ve forced seven sacks this season and their pressure has led to four interceptions as well.
The Steelers have a good unit upfront and have allowed only two sacks on the season. They are led by veterans and Pro Bowl selections Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, and Alejandro Villanueva. They allowed the fourth least amount of sacks in the league last season and look to be near the top again this year. If they can give Rudolph some time in the pocket Sunday it could be a major boost to their offensive efforts. It should be one heck of a matchup.
In the end, this game is going to be really physical. I see both teams playing good defense and keeping the other in check. Don’t expect either team to go crazy lighting up the scoreboard. It boils down to whether Rudolph can read the complex defense and if his offensive line gives him the necessary time. I like the 49ers at home, and if I had to make a prediction I’d go with San Francisco by the score of 24-13.