Pittsburgh @ San Francisco
Recommendation: SF -6.5
Cover Probability: 56.38%
Cover Edge: 7.63%
-QB Ben Roethlisberger (elbow) was injured week 2 and is on IR.
-RB James Conner (knee) was injured week 2, but will play week 3.
-DE Anthony Chickillo (plantar fasciitis) was injured week 2 and is OUT for week 3.
-LB Vince Williams (hamstring) was injured week 2 and is OUT for week 3.
San Francisco 49ers:
-RB Jerrick McKinnon (knee) is on season-ending IR.
-RB Tevin Coleman (high ankle sprain) was injured week 1 and INACTIVE week 2. He is OUT week 3.
-LT Joe Staley (leg) was injured week 2 and is out 6 – 8 weeks.
-DE Dee Ford (quad) was injured week 2 and is QUESTIONABLE for week 3, but the 49ers seem optimistic he’ll play.
When Pittsburgh has the ball:
Last week Pittsburgh lost Ben Roethlisberger for the year with an elbow injury. In comes Mason Rudolph, the 2018 3rd round pick out of Oklahoma State. Rudolph hadn’t played a down in the NFL until he came in last week for Big Ben — he went 12/19 (63.2%), 112 yards (5.9 average), 2 TDs, 1 INT. The general consensus on Rudolph is his pocket awareness is excellent and has solid downfield accuracy, but his arm strength isn’t special and he doesn’t have much of an ability to extend plays with his feet (4.9 40 yard dash). That’s a recipe that can work in the NFL — it sounds a bit like Tom Brady, maybe you’ve heard of him, but we’ll just have to wait and see how his skills translate to the NFL.
The good news for Rudolph is he’ll be playing behind one of the best offensive lines in football. Pro Football Focus ranked Pittsburgh as the third best offensive line going into the season (behind the Eagles and Cowboys), and through 2 games the Steelers have the 2nd best pass blocking grade in all of football. It’s a healthy unit without any glaring weaknesses.
Naturally, we know the Steelers offense had to transform without Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. JuJu Smith-Schuster is one of the better wide receivers in football, and James Connor replaced Bell without any loss in production (maybe because running backs don’t matter, so stop holding out… looking at you, Melvin Gordon). The Steelers tried bringing in Donte Moncrief, who is going on year 6 of having “potential” and “could break out at any moment.” Moncrief came out in week 1 with 1 catch on 10 fucking targets, and was benched in week 2. That leaves James Washington and Diontae Johnson as the 2 and 3 wide receivers, with Vance McDonald playing tight end. Mason Rudolph and Washington actually tore it up at Oklahoma State, so it’ll be interesting to see if they can rekindle their college connection.
The 49ers defense is surprisingly off to a great start. 2nd overall pick Nick Bosa already has 10 pressures (tied for 11th in the league), and with Dee Ford on the outside and DeForest Buckner on the inside, it could turn into a solid pass rushing unit. In coverage, we all know Richard Sherman can still play — but the surprise has been CB Ahkello Witherspoon. Only 25% of targets that have come Witherspoon’s way have been caught, and he already has an INT with 3 pass breakups despite the fact that he’s only been targeted 12 times. Here’s how good he’s been: you’d receive a passer rating of 39.6 if you just threw the ball into the dirt every play. Witherspoon is yielding a 16 rating when targeted. It’s fair to wonder if Bosa and Witherspoon can keep up this level of play (they likely can’t), but it’s also fair to assume this pass defense may not be the joke it once was. The 49ers have been tough on running backs as well, giving up 3.2 yards per rush as a unit.
When San Francisco has the ball:
Jimmy “Jaw Line” Garoppolo got off to a brutal start week one, but bounced back last week nicely, completing 68% of his passes with 11.9 yards per attempt. It’s understandable that he’d be a bit tense coming back from his 2018 ACL tear, so hopefully his performance last week is a sign that he’s fully healthy and ready to go.
The 49ers offensive line took a massive hit last week, losing LT Joe Staley for 6 – 8 weeks with a leg injury. Staley is one of the top tackles in all of football, and will be replaced by Justin Skule, a 6th round rookie out of Vanderbilt. At receiver, the most targeted and best option is actually a tight end, George Kittle. Behind Kittle by targets is Deebo Samuel (9), Richie James Jr (8), and Marquise Goodwin (6). It’s certainly an underwhelming group, but the talent of Kittle can be a difference maker. On the ground, the 49ers are still without Tevin Coleman, but they’re averaging 4.8 yards per carry… it’s almost like running back injuries don’t matter.
The Steelers defense has been kind to opposing offenses so far, giving up 33 points to the Patriots and 28 to the Seahawks. The issue with the Steelers is more their secondary than their front 7. TJ Watt looks like JJ Watt out there, racking up 9 pressures, and with Bud Dupree (outside) and Stephon Tuitt (inside), they’ve had success getting to the quarterback. They’ve also played well against the run, giving up just 4.0 yards per carry.
The secondary is different story, which is a big reason why the Steelers traded a first round pick to the Dolphins for S Minkah Fitzpatrick. He’s a hybrid safety/slot corner type, who can work as an extra linebacker in sub packages or cover the slot in zone schemes. Right now, he’s the lone bright spot in the secondary. Opposing QBs have a what-the-hell 131.3 rating against the Steelers. That’s video game numbers, even if it has been against Brady and Wilson.
Here’s to Jaw Line winning by a touchdown.
That’s it for now, bitches.