As the Pittsburgh Steelers lick their wounds following their Thursday night loss to the New England Patriots, the San Francisco 49ers are preparing to play the Minnesota Vikings as part of a Monday Night Football double-header to put a bow on the first week of NFL action in 2015.
Like the Steelers' coaches and players, many fans will be watching the game on Monday night to see what might be in store in Week 2 when the 49ers come to Heinz Field for a 1:00 p.m. EST kickoff. Here are five key items to keep an eye on as you scout the Steelers' next opponent.
Will Adrian Peterson run wild?
Adrian Peterson is back for the Vikings and it will be intriguing to see how he performs against the 49ers' defense. The 49ers have seen a tremendous amount of turnover on the defensive side of the ball. Whether it was unexpected retirements, injuries or even releasing players like Aldon Smith, the unit simply isn't the same as it was, even as recently as last season.
For a Steelers team which showed a tremendous running game against the Patriots in Week 1, with DeAngelo Williams and not the suspended Le'Veon Bell, this will be a matchup to watch as the team will look to duplicate its success in the ground game to control the clock and to open up play-action passing deep downfield.
Colin Kaepernick more of a pocket passer?
Kaepernick is quite the enigma at quarterback. Ridiculously athletic but often erratic and inconsistent as a passer, Kaepernick relies on his legs to make plays when things break down. This particular trait has plagued the Steelers against far lesser passers such as Alex Smith, Andy Dalton and even Joe Flacco.
The Steelers have been susceptible to the big run from quarterbacks and it'll be worth noting if the 49ers use Kaepernick more in the pocket rather than letting him tuck the ball and become a runner.
Short Week and travel for the 'Niners
The NFL schedule-makers certainly weren't kind to the 49ers following their Monday Night game. The 49ers will play in California on Monday night and then will face a short week, as well as traveling across the country for a 1:00 p.m. EST kickoff at Heinz Field. Not an easy task, even for the most veteran of teams. But for a team with many question marks like San Francisco, such a short week could be a challenge.
Speaking of the short week, not only does it make the following week a challenge in terms of preparation and travel, but it also gives players less time to heal after injury. If a player is being evaluated for a possible concussion, or even for a sprained ankle, they'll have less time to heal. Some might laugh at the suggestion that having 24 extra hours to rest won't make much difference, but it might be the difference between a player starting or sitting.
The Steelers are a team getting three extra days of rest, on top of being a relatively healthy unit with only minor injuries to speak of. Furthermore, the team isn't traveling this week. A tough week for the 49ers, but good news for the home team.
The rebuilt defense stout, or weak?
As mentioned, the turnover in personnel on the 49ers' defense was incredible. Most teams don't see that type of turnover throughout a 3-year span but San Francisco saw it in one off-season. How will the defense look? Will they not miss a beat, having new players step in and pick up where their predecessors left off? Or will the defense show the obvious growing pains as players get accustomed to their new surroundings and responsibilities as starters in the NFL. The defense will certainly be something to watch on Monday night.
All of these questions surround a team which might be the biggest question mark in the NFC. They return some big-name players like Kaepernick and Anquan Boldin, while adding Torrey Smith, but the losses of Patrick Willis and Frank Gore might prove costly. Steelers fans will be watching on Monday night in an attempt to get to know Pittsburgh's next opponent a little better before they arrive at the 'Big Ketchup Bottle.'