Week 3 X-Factors and Matchups to Watch
Yes, the Niners have a significant advantage, at least in terms of odds. And going up against an unproven, unknown quarterback should make things a bit more favorable for San Francisco’s defense, too.
But this game could still be dangerous for the 49ers, who still have a number of aspects on their Week 3 to-do list.
49ers Run Defense vs. James Conner
James Conner is off to a slow start in 2019, averaging just 2.6 yards per carry on the season. He’s been banged up, yes. But considering Mason Rudolph’s preference for play action, one might expect Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin to integrate a lot of the run game early, setting up those play-action passes in which Rudolph can find success.
Plus, the Niners have had difficulty defending swing passes out of the backfield this season.
With seven receptions for 56 yards this season, Conner can easily double as a receiving threat.
Justin Skule vs. Bud Dupree
Before Joe Staley’s injury, the Niners didn’t have to worry much about pass protection completely breaking down on the left side of the offensive line.
Now, it’s Justin Skule’s turn to hold his own against one of Pittsburgh’s better edge defenders, Bud Dupree, as pointed out by Pro Football Focus’ Jeff Deeney:
So far, San Francisco has allowed just one sack on Jimmy Garoppolo. Keeping that number low again in Week 3 will fall heavily on Skule’s efforts.
49ers Pass Rush vs. Steelers Offensive Line
The Niners have generated one of the best four-man pass rushes early in 2019. Yet this unit hasn’t exactly gone up against top-tier competition.
PFF ranked the Tampa Bay Buccaneers O-line 24th entering the regular season. The Bengals, meanwhile, ranked next to last.
The Steelers, however, were ranked third prior to Week 1. And this unit has surrendered just two sacks on the season, making this matchup between San Francisco’s prime defensive strength and an elite pass-protecting group one to watch.
The Crowd at Levi’s Stadium
Let’s face it: San Francisco hasn’t been great ever since moving into Levi’s Stadium in 2014. And while there are plenty of factors here, the crowd and home-field advantage hasn’t exactly been there for the Niners, either.
But for those wondering if it’s the stadium itself, think again. All one needs to do is go back and watch the 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship, where the Clemson Tigers knocked off the Alabama Crimson Tide for the title.
Yes, it was loud there. Like, earth-shattering loud.
With the team’s best start since 2012, and a slew of new-found hopes, it will be of primary interest seeing how the Levi’s Stadium crowd responds.