By Christina Rivers
The Pittsburgh Steelers and San Francisco 49ers will meet for the 21st time in regular season action during Week 2 of the 2015 season, and for the first time since 2011 on Sunday. This week’s game will mark the second time Pittsburgh will host San Francisco at Heinz Field. As the Steelers prepare for the game, players and coaches offer their perspective on what has changed, their level of readiness and give insight into their opponents.
Defending against Kaepernick
After their opening game of the season against a high-caliber quarterback in Tom Brady, the Pittsburgh Steelers will face another tough competitor in San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick. On Monday, three defenders gave their views on what it will take to keep him contained.
“(They’re) two different styles of quarterbacks,” said safety Mike Mitchell. “Kaepernick is strong arm, definitely more of a runner. We have to be conscious of him escaping the pocket versus a traditional drop back passing type of game.”
“It’s night and day. Brady is a very cerebral player,” said linebacker Arthur Moats. “[Brady] gets rid of the ball really fast. That’s his game. With Kaepernick he is holding the ball more. The running element is a bigger factor this week, especially with his running ability. As far as your rushing lane, you have to be more disciplined and know what type of animal you are dealing with.”
Rookie linebacker Bud Dupree looked at facing the 49ers and Kaepernick as an opportunity to have fun. “With Brady everything is so quick that usually you get made at the pass rush,” said Dupree. “At least with playing Kaepernick we get a chance to rush. But you have to keep your rush lanes. If you make one mistake he will run down the field far and make you pay for that.”
Steelers’ Ramon Foster tries journalism
After attending the NFL Sports Journalism & Communication Boot Camp, offensive guard Ramon Foster offered some thoughts in a contributing piece on the Steelers’ official web site. While most of his post was about his level of excitement regarding the new season ahead, he reminisced a bit when talking about roster cuts and teams moving on with new personnel. In particular, Foster talked about the recent departure of Brett Keisel from the Steelers and how Foster has a new teammate wearing Keisel’s number. “For me,” wrote Foster, “I thought football stopped for him after he left the game. It hasn’t, someone is in his old locker and his football time has passed on the gridiron. His impact on the game will always be felt, but the game keeps on pushing forward. It’s the same for fans when it’s time to replace those legendary players.” Foster went on to talk about growing pains the team, especially new players on the team, will experience.
Tomlin answered questions about the defensive backfield, Boykin
In his Tuesday press conference, head coach Mike Tomlin fielded several questions about his young defense, especially the backfield and Brandon Boykin. Recently, reports circulated that the veteran cornerback, brought to Pittsburgh in a trade of a conditional draft pick to the Philadelphia Eagles before the season, was puzzled about not being given playing time against the New England Patriots in week one. When asked if Boykin would see snaps against San Francisco, Tomlin said, “We’ll see. We’re putting together a plan that will allow us to play the type of ball we want to play. He’s a guy who is under strong consideration.” The game on Thursday night against the New England Patriots was the first game of Boykin’s career in which he did not play a single defensive snap. “I definitely intend on playing at some point and I think that’ll be a conversation we’ll have if it continues to go this route, but right now I don’t know what’s going on,” said Boykin. As for the reasoning, Tomlin told the media, “We chose to play other people.”
Boykin was considered early to be a top contender for a starting position with Cortez Allen, William Gay and Antwon Blake at cornerback. Heading into week two, the Steelers have listed Allen and Blake with an “or” on their depth chart, not making a clear definition of who would be started over another. “We like some of the things we’ve seen from both guys,” Tomlin explained. “There have also been some inconsistencies from both guys. That’s why they are listed that way, while also acknowledging sub-package football is a big element of the game….That’s just the nature of today’s football. I think the ‘or’ is appropriate.”
Tomlin’s statements appeared to reveal that, at this time, only three corners are considered in the full rotation, when he said, “All three corners are going to play significant roles, regardless of who is starting.” Whether he was speaking of the right cornerback position only is unclear. What is clear is that the Steelers coaching staff is well aware of the transitional state of their defensive backfield, and a decision on who will play will largely be based on the level of consistency these players exhibit.
Roethlisberger gives props to offensive teammates
On Wednesday, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger spoke with Teresa Varley about four key teammates he felt played well in week one as well as his relationship with them.
Tight end Heath Miller has long been a guy that Roethlisberger has felt comfortable with on the field and who he feels continues to play well. “He’s a guy that works and takes great pride in his craft,” said Roethlisberger. “He makes sure he’s in shape and ready to go.” Miller is one of the most senior players that remains on the roster, but Roethlisberger insists he is “aging well.”
Running back DeAngelo Williams rushed for 127 yards against the Patriots and is expected to give the Steelers offense a boost in the run game against San Francisco as well. “I was obviously very happy with what he did [against New England], but we all knew what we were getting in (Williams),” Roethlisberger said. “He’s a guy that puts the work in and is a great player.” Roethlisberger expressed that he doesn’t feel that the Steelers will shelve Williams once Le’Veon Bell returns from suspension, but Bell will actually be aided by Williams’ leadership and ability to help carry the load of running the ball.
On Sunday, Cody Wallace will once again take his spot at center on the offensive line. When Maurkice Pouncey was injured during the preseason, there was concern about the level Wallace would be ready to play, but Roethlisberger admitted that getting time one-on-one with the young center helped them transition into season play. “Cody has been here and is part of the group. We’ve taken many snaps. I wasn’t worried about (him) and I think it showed. Cody played a great game,” said Roethlisberger.
The Steelers looked like they could have used Martavis Bryant as an extra weapon on offense against the Patriots, and although he will be missed during the Sunday game against San Francisco, Roethlisberger was open about the way Markus Wheaton and Darrius Heyward-Bey stepped up. “We are going to look back and wish we would have done some things differently,” Roethlisberger admitted. “That’s myself included. Looking at it from my perspective, I thought they did a great job.” Heyward-Bey had four receptions for 58 yards in week one and Wheaton added three catches for 55 yards. Although neither receiver had a touchdown reception, they provided valuable options for Roethlisberger when Antonio Brown was covered on passing plays.
Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a journalist and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied Exercise Physiology and Sports Psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL as well as a published author. Her work can be found on