No NFL team ever wants to start a season 0-2, but when you are the Pittsburgh Steelers and have the most difficult schedule in the entire league, having such a slow start could stall any hopes of the playoffs in the Steel City. With the San Francisco 49ers coming to town to help open up Heinz Field for the 2015 regular season, there is some serious significance to this game for the home team.
Take a look at 5 players who will be under the microscope when the 49ers look to advance their record to 2-0, while plummeting the Steelers hopes of reaching .500.
Williams did more than enough to fill the void left by suspended RB Le'Veon Bell in the team's Week 1 loss to the New England Patriots. Williams rushed for 127 yards on 21 carries, and will need to be as reliable against a more stout 49ers defense Sunday. If Williams is able to run the ball behind the Pittsburgh offensive line, it will keep the offense balanced, and leave the 49ers guessing what will be hitting them next.
Roethlisberger had a great game against the Patriots last week. Throwing for 351 yards on 28 completions with a touchdown, but Roethlisberger will have to be on point again Sunday for the Steelers to leave Heinz Field with a victory. The weak point in the 49ers defense is their secondary, but Roethlisberger can't have any mistakes, like he did with his 4th quarter interception last week to give the team the best chance to win. The pressure will also be on Roethlisberger to cash in when the team gets into the red-zone, an issue with the team which stretches back the entire 2014 season.
McLendon did a tremendous job stopping the run against the Patriots last week, and McLendon will have to be the immovable force in the middle to stop the likes of Colin Kaepernick and Carlos Hyde this week. The 49ers want to run the ball, and the man in the middle will certainly have his hands full with the 49ers rushing attack. If McLendon can not only stop the run, but put pressure on the quarterback from the interior of the defensive line, it will pay huge dividends for the Steelers in this matchup.
With Cortez Allen likely out of the game with a knee injury, the job of starting cornerback then falls on Blake. Blake had a game to forget in Week 1, and will look to prove his worth against the likes of Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin. Blake is a good tackler, and very solid in run support, but the question surrounding the Steelers defense will be in pass coverage. Blake's success will be the ultimate decider if fans see Brandon Boykin and/or Ross Cockrell with any regularity Sunday. Needless to say, Blake needs to perform in a big way Sunday.
Speaking of a performance to forget, newly acquired kicker Josh Scobee probably would like to forget the Week 1 game where he missed two field goals inside 50-yards. Those kicks weren't the deciding factor in the loss, but would have gone a long way towards momentum and field position. Scobee was solid on kickoffs, but for his home debut at Heinz Field, he will need to re-gain the trust and confidence of coaches and fans by being the solid veteran they thought they traded a draft pick to acquire after both Shaun Suisham and Garrett Hartley were lost due to injury.