By Christina Rivers

On Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers will play before their home crowd at Heinz Field for the first time during the 2015 NFL regular season, and their opponent will be the San Francisco 49ers. The Steelers, with the toughest schedule in the league according to many NFL insiders, look to capitalize on struggles San Francisco faced against the Minnesota Vikings while they improve their own defense overall.

The Steelers’ defensive struggles are no longer just a topic of concern. With six-of-seven injured players on the official report being players on defense, coordinator Keith Butler has an even tougher task on his hands in putting a successful campaign together. Linebackers coach Joey Porter has watched both Ryan Shazier (knee) and Sean Spence (hamstring) work to get back into shape. Defensive backs coach Carnell Lake has dealt with Cortez Allen (knee), Will Allen (concussion), Brandon Boykin (groin) and Mike Mitchell (hip) struggling to get healthy before Sunday’s game. With so many injuries, the Steelers will be forced to rotate several guys into the lineup – a similar tactic to Week 1 when they faced the New England Patriots.

In his Tuesday press conference, head coach Mike Tomlin was asked about the rotation of the linebackers. “We were happy with how it worked out,” Tomlin said. “We didn’t count reps…those guys are going to play and maybe some weeks, James Harrison’s numbers will reflect what you suggested [as higher]. Maybe some weeks it won’t.” Tomlin said that the team feels it is critical to play a healthy rotation in outside linebackers Harrison, Jarvis Jones, Arthur Moats and Bud Dupree.

On offense, only backup quarterback Landry Jones was listed as injured during the week. As of Wednesday, it appeared that he had cleared concussion protocols, but is likely to be inactive on Sunday as Pittsburgh focuses on the number of players needed to fill out a full roster on defense.

Tomlin talked about what he, the coaching staff and players learned about their team after losing to New England and how to move forward. “We will get an opportunity to see our responses to the things that transpired (against the Patriots) as we step into this one. We are going to know a lot more in that regard as we make the necessary adjustments.” One area the Steelers are focused on improving against the 49ers while on offense is in giving away less turnovers and being more successful in the red zone – an area of the field that has haunted Pittsburgh the past two seasons. Tomlin said the Steelers are focused on putting the right personnel on the field to not only move the ball effectively on offense, but to have the scoreboard reflect the work put into the game when the final horn sounds.

Fantasy Outlook

Even though only (Cortez) Allen is listed as questionable as of Friday, this would be a poor week to start the Steelers defense from a fantasy standpoint. San Francisco had one lone player listed from their roster on offense in running back Reggie Bush who may miss Sunday’s game. As Pittsburgh counts on James Harrison, Lawrence Timmons and Arthur Moats to step into the veteran roles to guide younger linebackers on Sunday, they will have their hands full containing 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco rushing game. It will be all the defensive backfield can do keep guys on the field long enough to get the ball back to Ben Roethlisberger and company on offense.

This week, on offense, points to Ben Roethlisberger once again having a game where 300-plus passing yards is possible.  Running back DeAngelo Williams was a boon for players that started him in Week 1 as he recorded over 100 yards rushing. In tight end leagues, you can’t go wrong in putting Heath Miller in but this may not be a strong week for Steelers receivers as they share responsibility much like week one.  Sammie Coates may or may not be active as Tyler Murphy got the nod in Week 1.

Injury Recap

Probable:

Will Allen (S) – knee
Brandon Boykin (CB) – groin
Mike Mitchell (S) – hip
Ryan Shazier (LB) – knee
Sean Spence (LB) – hamstring
Landry Jones (QB) – head

Questionable:

Cortez Allen (CB) – knee

Questionable:

No players listed

Out:

No players listed

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
Examiner.com.