When the Pittsburgh Steelers host the San Francisco 49ers Sunday at Heinz Field, it will be a huge game for the home team, as they try to avoid the dreaded 0-2 stumble out of the gates. Considering the 49ers are not a common foe for the Steelers, it was important we sought out Niners Nation editor David Fucillo to find out some details of the upcoming matchup.
Take a look at the Q&A session with Niners Nation below, and why the Steelers would be wise to attack the 49ers secondary early and often Sunday at 1:00 p.m. EST.
The turnover the 49ers experienced this offseason are well documented. What are the expectations from the fan base heading into 2015, and especially after a nice Monday Night Football victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Week 1?
Expectations heading into the season were all over the place. Some folks were decidedly pessimistic, others thought the replacements would be sufficient to be competitive. People frequently asked me for a record prediction, and I said, this team could win 5 or 6 games, or this team could win 10 games, and neither result would surprise me. That's how bizarre an offseason it was. I had relatively modest expectations because of the turnover, but I also knew it was hard to make particularly accurate guesses with so many changes.
One of the big questions was the offensive line, and that unit looked particularly good on Monday. I've felt this team will go as far as the offensive line takes them, and Monday, it dominated in the run game. I expect teams to focus more on stopping Hyde moving forward, so it will now have to focus more on pass protection. It is not quite as shocking the unit is good in run blocking. There remain questions about the pass blocking, so we'll see what this week brings. But I think opinions are more optimistic following Week 1.
Head Coach Jim Tomsula is a Pittsburgh native, and a rookie head coach in the NFL. What does he bring to the table which could be considered an upgrade from Jim Harbaugh who preceded him?
The biggest thing is that he seems a bit more player friendly. The 49ers players have always loved the guy, and he seems to be a bit more of a players' coach. Harbaugh pushed the team relentlessly. That got them to some great heights, but also may have burned some players out. Under Tomsula, camp wasn't "easy" by any stretch, but he took his foot off the gas for stretches to keep the team a bit fresher. Week 1 they had one guy on their injury report, which was the lowest in the league. Coming off a year of an insane amount of injuries, that's a big deal.
Colin Kaepernick is as close to an enigma as there is in the NFL. Brilliant on one series, and head scratching the next. What are some of the major improvements you have seen within Kaepernick's game, and what makes him so dangerous heading into the game against the Steelers this Sunday?
Kap spent the offseason working with quarterback coaches to improve his game. He spent most of his time with a pair of coaches in Arizona, but also spent some time with Kurt Warner and Trent Dilfer. The coaches worked to tighten up his release, and build a more solid base so he wasn't just throwing it all with his arm. In Week 1, we saw him step up in the pocket better than he has in the past. Previously, he'd pull down the ball and take off. On Monday, he would step up and make the throw rather than just tuck and run. He still used his legs as needed, but he seemed a bit more patient in his approach. His accuracy was still an issue at times on deeper passes, and I think the Steelers will force him to make more of those passes.
But for now, his legs remain the biggest threat. He is still harnessing that power, but if a seam opens up, he remains an incredibly dangerous threat.
The 49ers defense was thought to be a work in progress heading into 2015, but looked pretty solid in Week 1. What about the potent Steelers offense threatens the 'niners defense in Week 2?
The 49ers turned over their cornerback depth chart this season, and it includes one second year player (Kenneth Acker) who sat out last season. I imagine Tramaine Brock spends most of the night on Antonio Brown, which should be a fun competition to watch. That would seemingly leave Markus Wheaton vs. Acker, which is where we could see Roethlisberger try and test the 49ers. Tight end Kyle Rudolph was the Vikings second leading pass catcher, so I imagine Roethlisberger and the offense will look for ways to get Heath Miller involved.
DeAngelo Williams had a strong performance in Week 1, but the run defense has been where the 49ers had strongest success. Mike Tomlin said he did not think the 49ers secondary was challenged last week because the defensive front did such a strong job. I would not be surprised if the Steelers attacked the 49ers through the air early and often.
San Francisco didn't get any love from the schedule makers having to travel across country on a short week, with a 1 p.m. ESTstart time. How much of a factor do you see this being when the game starts at Heinz Field on Sunday?
This is a tough turnaround. The team did a walkthrough Wednesday, has a normal practice Thursday and Friday, and then heads east Friday afternoon. The team plays a physical brand of football, so it will be interesting to see how they look out of the gates on Sunday. I don't know whether to be more worried about that early part, or if they wear down late in the game. It's not easy to diagnose that situation. I am going in with fairly low expectations primarily because of that turnaround. Jim Tomsula is not giving excuses for it, but it is hard to ignore that turnaround.
Big tip of the cap to David for taking the time to answer our questions, and as always, if you want the low-down on the 49ers leading into the game Sunday there is no better place than Niners Nation (SB Nation's 49ers website.)