The San Francisco 49ers will host the Pittsburgh Steelers in their final home game of the regular season. It will also be the first and only Monday Night Football game for the Niners. It is a great match up between two historical franchises. The game will be a hard hitting affair as we got two of the best defenses in the NFL squaring off against one another. Both teams will be without their defensive leaders. LB Patrick Willis is listed as questionable for the second straight game and it is a safe bet that he will not be suited up for the game. LB James Harrison will also be out for the game due to a one game suspension for a helmet to helmet hit on Cleveland Browns QB Colt McCoy. This is a huge game for both teams when it comes to playoff positioning. The Niners need a win in order to achieve the second seed and get a first round bye in the NFC playoffs. The Steelers are still fighting out with the Baltimore Ravens for the AFC North title and as well for a possible first round bye in the AFC playoffs. Here are some keys for this great matchup of two Super Bowl contending teams.
San Francisco’s Offense Line Vs The Pittsburgh Blitz
As all us Niner fans know by now, our Offense Line has really sucked in the past three games, especially against the zone blitz. If the players and the coaching staff have made any adjustments, this would be the game to display it. Even without James Harrison, believe that the Steelers will bring the blitz early and often. LB Lamar Woodley is one of the best pass rushing linebackers in the NFL. If the Niner O-line does not step it up, Woodley will have a similar game as Baltimore Raven’s LB Terrell Suggs did against the Niners a few weeks ago where he was hitting and sacking QB Alex Smith regularly.
The Niners O-line has to show some pride in this game. For most of the season the Niners O-line were getting much praise throughout the league. Many sports analyst credited the success of the Niners to the O-line, stating that they were just too physical against other teams. As of late they have struggled to keep Alex of the ground. If this trend continues Niner fans might have something to worry about.
Alex Smith Vs Ben Roethlisberger
Even though the O-line has had their issues, some of the blame should go towards Alex. Alex has a hard time getting rid of the ball under pressure and he takes sacks too frequently. He needs make quicker decisions under pressure because teams will continue to bring the blitz. I know the reasoning in taking so many sacks. It is better to get sacked and punt than to possibly turn the ball over. The Niners show a lot of trust in their defense, as they should, but Alex and the offense have start taking some chances against the blitz.
Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger is listed questionable for the game with a high ankle sprain, but Big Ben is one of the toughest players in the NFL and it is easy to say that he will play. With a bad ankle, the Niners defense will focus on getting Big Ben on the run and hopefully getting him to throw a bad pass on that injured ankle. The Niners defense will have to do their best to pressure Big Ben in order to keep him from finding his mob of explosive receivers. WR Mike Wallace and WR Antonio Brown have had great seasons for the Steelers and the Niners defensive backs will be looking to redeem themselves after a poor game last week against the Arizona Cardinals.
Frank Gore Vs Age
We all know RB Frank Gore has had a great year, but with age and injuries starting to pile up after a long grueling season, the question will be can he sustain it. He had a long touchdown run last week showing that he still has fuel in the gas tank. The key will be splitting carries with rookie RB Kendall Hunter. It will keep Frank fresher throughout the game and give the Steelers two backs two worry about. I am also hoping with a game of this magnitude the adrenaline will be more than enough to carry Frank and have a big game against the Steelers. If Frank comes out dominating the Steelers defense, the Niners will have their way and be able to dictate the game.
The game will have similarities to the one against the Baltimore Ravens. With three big differences: the game will be at home, the Niners have had a full week to prepare, and Alex should not be sacked nine times. Meaning the Niners will come out victorious in a very close game, final score 23-20. Go Niners!!!!!!