As the Pittsburgh Steelers stare at their 0-1 record heading into their Week 2 game against the San Francisco 49ers Sunday, the biggest question mark for the home team isn't their prolific offense lead by Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown. Instead, it is their questionable defense which allowed the New England Patriots to move the ball at-will through the air in Week 1.
The 49ers possess a different approach to their offensive attack, and it just happens to be the complete opposite of the Steelers' Week 1 opponent. The 49ers don't want to finesse their way to victory by throwing the ball, they want to bludgeon you with the running game while controlling the clock and winning the time of possession battle.
This is the exact template San Francisco used to defeat the Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night Football in Week 1. The 49ers rushed for 230 yards and two touchdowns, compared to passing for 165 yards total. The 'niners rushed the ball 39 times, and only attempted passes 26 times for a clock grinding 33:02 total time of possession.
As Tom Brady was the man with the plan in Week 1, Colin Kaepernick is quite the opposite in Week 2. Kaepernick is a unique talent, with a skill set not many can duplicate. Kaepernick is a strong armed quarterback with an ability to run the ball which hasn't been seen since Michael Vick was a regular starter in the NFL. What Kaepernick brings to the field as an athlete, he lacks in ability to control a game with his arm.
This is exactly how the Steelers will look to stop the 49ers offense, by containing the San Francisco running game and forcing Kaepernick to beat them with his arm, not his legs. Doing such will be no easy task as it isn't just Kaepernick who will be running the ball, but Carlos Hyde who rushed for 168 yards and 2 touchdowns on 26 attempts on Monday night.
Kaepernick has proven he is capable of throwing the football, but if his game has any weakness it would be his ability to read the field and win football games with his arm. The Steelers could deploy a spy on Kaepernick, and the player most likely to be given such a task would be ILB Ryan Shazier. Shazier's speed and agility would be the perfect match for the nimble Kaepernick.
The Steelers defense will have their hands full with the 49ers running game, but don't think the Steelers' offense won't have a hand in this task as well. If the Steelers offense can improve their red-zone offense by scoring touchdowns and not field goals, the 49ers could find themselves in a hole which will require them to throw the football to get back into the game.
The Steelers offense is a time consuming juggernaut, but if they are repeatedly relying on the leg of Josh Scobee to add 3 points on the scoreboard, it won't force San Francisco to abandon their bread and butter running game. The task at hand seems simple, stop the 49ers ground attack and win the game; however, the Steelers as a team will have to do their part in forcing the game onto the arm of Kaepernick. Doing so may very well be the difference between 1-1 and 0-2 for the Steelers.