How important is home field advantage to the Pittsburgh Steelers? We may find out Monday night when the Steelers have to decide whether or not to play Ben Roethlisberger against the San Francisco 49ers.
Roethlisberger suffered a high ankle sprain last week and despite his best efforts, may not be ready to compete on Monday.
“I can just tell them whether I think I can go or not, and I think I can go all the time, so I’m going to do everything I can to be out there for this team," said Roethlisberger (via Steelers.com).
There is no doubt that Roethlisberger will do everything in his power to get out on the field, but if he can't, the Steelers will have to adjust as they face one of the league's best defenses.
Beyond Roethlisberger, injuries to Maurkice Pouncey, Troy Polamalu, Emmanuel Sanders and Marcus Gilbert mean that even if they all play, the 49ers will get to face a very unhealthy Steelers' team that also happens to be missing James Harrison due to a one-game suspension.
Regardless of their injury situation, the Steelers still expect results, and the only result that is acceptable at this time of season is a win.
Here are the keys for the Steelers to earn a victory over the 49ers on Monday night.
Whether it is a gimpy Roethlisberger or a slow Charlie Batch, Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians needs to implement a quick passing attack against a very good 49ers defense.
San Francisco will likely take advantage of the situation and pressure the Steelers' quarterback. Aldon Smith leads the team with 10.5 sacks.
It is unlikely the Steelers will be able to use Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman to slow the pass rush with a power rushing attack. The 49ers are the top-rated run defense in the league, allowing only 70.5 yards per game, not to mention the Steelers' ground attack doesn't exactly light teams up.
Instead, utilizing Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown's speed off the line will be key.
Once Wallace gets into open space there are few players that can catch him. Since teams have been double-teaming him on deep passes, Wallace has been a greater threat for the catch and run.
Brown has been outstanding at finding open spaces in defenses and is quick off the ball. He is able to catch the ball in traffic and will likely see a lot of passes thrown his way.
Depending Patrick Willis' status, Pittsburgh may also be able to exploit the middle of the field with Heath Miller.
Regardless, the wide receiver screen and quick slants should be a staple.
The Steelers' top-rated pass defense should be able to handle Alex Smith.
Ike Taylor will match up against the 49ers' top receiver, Michael Crabtree, who isn't at the same level as many of the top receivers Taylor has faced this season.
That puts the pressure on the Steelers' rush defense.
Though it ranks sixth in the league, Pittsburgh's run defense has allowed 97 yards per game, a high number for the Steelers' standards.
San Francisco will likely run behind the left side of its offensive line, consisting of former first-round draft picks Joe Staley and Mike Iupati.
Frank Gore, who has more than 1,000 yards rushing, at one point ran for more than 100 yards in five consecutive games. However, he has been slowed during the last three weeks, gaining only 148 yards with an average of 2.5 yards per carry.
The Steelers will need their defensive line to prevent openings for Gore and continue to limit his production.
LaMarr Woodley's likely return to the lineup should also provide a huge boost to the run defense, and a healthy Troy Polamalu gives the Steelers another option to play near the line.
Last week the Steelers had a lot of self-inflicted wounds that allowed the Browns to stick around.
Pittsburgh needs to remain focused and avoid taking a lot of penalties.
It will be tough enough to move the ball on San Francisco, and Pittsburgh cannot afford to make mental mistakes that turn a positive play into a negative.
The fact that Chris Kemoeatu should not be on the field will help. He accounted for three penalties for 25 yards alone last week.
Though he may not be their best offensive player, Antonio Brown has certainly become one of the Steelers' biggest playmakers, and he will continue to be a focal point of the offense this week.
Brown caught his second touchdown pass of the season last week on a 79-yard catch and run that helped seal the game, and he returned a punt for a score the week before.
Pittsburgh will need Brown to make plays on offense and special teams, especially if Roethlisberger does not play.
If Pittsburgh wants to slow San Francisco's run game it will have to be Casey Hampton who gets everything started up front.
Hampton has not had his best season and at times has been easily blocked with one lineman. That will not cut it this week.
The Steelers will need a heck of an effort from the defense to win this week, and their top priority needs to be stopping Gore and the 49ers running attack.
- San Francisco leads the all-time series 10-9.
- Pittsburgh won the last meeting 37-16 on September 23, 2007.
- The Steelers lost in their last trip to San Francisco in 2003 by a score of 30-14.
- Pittsburgh can clinch a wild-card spot this weekend with a win or tie.
- The Steelers have held 12 straight opponents to 23 points or less.
- Hines Ward is nine receptions away from 1,000.
- Antonio Brown is 75 yards away from his first career 1,000-yard season. With Wallace already over 1,000 yards, it would be the fourth duo in team history to achieve 1,000 yards in the same season.
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